How COVID-19 has affected criminal courts

As stay-at-home orders continue in the State of Arizona, businesses and restaurants and our daily routines have drastically shifted, including our legal systems. Our legal court systems have modified their usual operating procedures in light of the pandemic. In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Arizona Courts have encouraged citizens to maintain safe social distancing protocols even during legal proceedings.

So, what does this mean for our criminal courts and those awaiting their trials? Prior to the spread of COVID-19, many courts already had lengthy backlogs of both criminal and civil cases. These past few months have worsened the backlogs and jeopardized the constitutional rights of defendants. The Sixth Amendmentof our Constitution provides criminal defendants the right to a speedy and public trial, but the pandemic has significantly delayed the courts from providing these rights to defendants.

Court systems are struggling to figure out how to deal with defendants awaiting trial but who currently cannot be tried due to coronavirus restrictions. Many of these individuals are awaiting trials while incarcerated as the judiciary determines how to safely proceed. An example of this is with the scheduling of jurors. The judiciary is struggling to determine how to proceed with jury trials that require jurors to be seated in proximity in the courtroom and in small deliberation rooms.

While we are still in the midst of combating the spread of COVID-19, it is difficult to predict its long-term effects on the criminal justice system. However, as trials begin to resume, the preference most likely will be on criminal cases in order to meet the constitutional mandates afforded to criminal defendants.

As of now, the Maricopa County Superior Court has modified many of the court appearance policies in order to reduce the exposure to the Coronavirus. As stated in the Maricopa County Superior Court’s website, many in person hearings have returned to their pre-COVID courtrooms with new policies and procedures. Some hearing will proceed in person, unless otherwise ordered by the court through audio or video appearance. For a detailed guideline for the Maricopa County Superior Court: Criminal Department, click here

POLICIES AND PROCEDURES ARE CHANGING RAPIDLY so make sure to check in regularly for updates from the court. You can check the Arizona Supreme Court COVID-19 information page for updated administrative orders that control the State courts. The page will be a helpful tool to identify how your local Court is being affected.

Most courthouses across the state will remain open and each courthouse in the state of Arizona has posted their own set of instructions. For individualized specifications, please see the following county guidelines:

To find out how COVID-19 could be affecting your criminal, DUI or Drug cases, contact SOTO LAW by calling our office at 480.500.9900 to schedule your consultation. We remain fully operational while practicing appropriate social distancing procedures and following CDC guidelines.

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