COVID-19 and the Legal System

David Lindsey, Attorney at Law
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COVID-19 and the Legal System

There is no denying that COVID-19 has affected everyone in the country in one way or another. Those involved in the criminal justice system are no exception. Federal, state, and local governments have all made changes that affect legal systems, which could result in an effect on you if you currently have a stake in the system.

Changes vary from place to place with some states and local municipalities needing to be stricter than others. In general, though, every aspect of the legal system has been affected in one way or another.

What do you need to know?

Courts are Operating Differently Right Now

Courts across the country have made changes to reduce health and safety risks for those who would typically be in a courtroom or passing through a courthouse. For example, jury trials are postponed or restricted to allow for social distancing. This is the case for nearly all in-person proceedings. Nearly all courthouses are restricting entrance into the buildings on an as-needed basis. This includes the US Supreme Court, though it remains open for official business purposes and filing deadlines are still in place. Other courts have granted extensions for deadlines, including filing and paying fines and fees.

If you’d like to know more about what courts are doing in a particular area, check out this information from the National Center for State Court (NCSC)

Law Enforcement Changes

Police officers and those on the frontlines have made significant changes in how they work in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. What these changes look like varies from location to location.

In some areas, law enforcement is issuing citations to those who are violating stay-at-home orders. Other law enforcement officials have refused to enforce certain aspects of stay-at-home orders and instead focus on usual violations of the law. And in other cases, police officers have reduced the overall number of arrests they are making to reduce interaction with the public and avoid crowding people into jails. Law enforcement officers are encouraged to maintain social distancing guidelines and wear PPE, both of which require adjustments in usual day-to-day procedures.

Law enforcement personnel has also been affected by illness and have been forced to make adjustments based on reduced staffing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new guidance for law enforcement personnel.

Correctional Facilities Face Serious Issues Related to COVID-19

Like other places where people live in contained spaces, jails and prisons throughout the country are categorized as high-risk for the spread of the virus. There are also risks involving correctional facilities employees transmitting COVID-19 from outside the buildings when they come and go from work.

Steps have been taken to reduce outbreaks within correctional facilities, including:

  • Reducing arrests and jail admissions
  • Releasing people when reasonable
  • Reducing unnecessary contact among residents
    • Restricting visitation
    • Eliminating medical co-pays
    • Increasing access to testing
    • Eliminating the cost of phone call and video communication

Some work-release programs have barred residents from leaving the facilities after residents tested positive for COVID-19.

The goal is to prevent people who have been exposed to the virus from spreading it in the community. Additionally, it prevents people from contracting COVID-19 while away from the facility and spreading it to fellow residents upon their return.

Many of these same precautions are being taken in juvenile detention facilities, as well. It’s difficult to employ social distancing strategies, so government officials have been forced to devise other strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

In California and other states, intake and transfers have been temporarily halted. Where this is not the case, procedures are being evaluated and officials are looking for ways to make the processes less risky.

Concern about outbreaks in correctional facilities and juvenile detention centers is warranted. Jurisdictions across the country are dealing with issues and continue to look for ways to keep the virus under control in these environments.

If you have questions about the ongoing changes in the criminal justice system in response to COVID-19 or you need to speak to an attorney about any other issue, contact David Lindsey.

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