How Does Covid-19 Impact the Timing of my Criminal Court Case?
This article will not help people looking for a quick dismissal. The quick answer is that your criminal case might be on pause while society figures out what to do with the coronavirus. COVID -19 has stopped criminal courts in a number of jurisdictions across the country and world, but COVID -19 will probably not mean that your case gets automatically dismissed and there is unlikely to be a material change in your case as a result of COVID -19. This article does not cover all 50- state specific rules. The focus is on the “big picture.”
The backbone of the justice system in the United States of America is a concept known as Due Process. Due process means that a citizen charged with a crime will be given a fair trial that follows a defined procedure through the judicial system. Due process balances the power of the state while protecting the individual person from the power of the state. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution each contain a due process clause.
The clause in the Fifth Amendment reads:
No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.
While the clause in the Fourteenth Amendment says:
…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.
The Fifth Amendment is also part of the first 10 Amendments to the United States Constitution known as The Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights protect our most cherished American freedoms, including freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and due process of law.
Due to Coronavirus or COVID-19, many aspects of our lives have been put on pause, including our justice system. If you have been charged with a crime during this unprecedented time, call the local court where you were charged to find out detailed specifics on how cases are being processed during this time. Do not make any assumptions without first inquiring. Some courts are humming along without missing a beat despite COVID-19; some are not.
Since time in terms of a speedy trial and timing in terms of a timely resolution of a criminal case is a fundamental and basic right, the question worth asking is, “How will any delays due to COVID-19 affect my right to a Speedy Trial?” The Sixth Amendment guarantees the rights of criminal defendants, including the right to a public trial without unnecessary delay, the right to a lawyer, the right to an impartial jury, and the right to know who your accusers are and the nature of the charges and evidence against you. This means that a criminal defendant must be brought to trial for his or her alleged crimes within a reasonably short period of time after arrest. Failure for the prosecutor to abide by this law can result in a dismissal for the criminal defendant! In most states a trial must be held within 6 months from the date of arraignment. Your arraignment date is typically your first court hearing after you have been arrested for a crime. What follows are Pre-Trial Conferences with the prosecutor and defense every 30 days or so for the next 6 months (180 days) until your trial begins. Over the course of these pre-trial conferences, either the government (prosecutor) or the defense (your attorney) can “waive time” by requesting a continuance from the judge without it counting against either side and still falling within the definition of a Speedy Trial according to the Sixth Amendment. Granted, a trial can drag on for days, months, even years. However, the speed that which is referenced in the Sixth Amendment has to with the getting to the trial, getting your day in court if you will. There are no legislative mandates regarding the actual duration of a trial. A trial can take as long as it needs to in order for justice to be served.
However, now with the onset of COVID-19 and the delays that some jurisdictions are experiencing, instead of time being waived, it is being suspended. It is like the judicial clock has stopped until time can resume. Obviously, time has not really stopped, and life still goes on, however some aspects of life have been put on pause. COVID-19 has made us all keenly aware that life is short. It is a reminder for all of us that the real crime is to waste our time. People are still getting arrested and the people that had a criminal case pending before COVID-19 still do. So, the bubble of cases continues to expand. But what is happening in some jurisdictions is that people are getting plea deals, or they are able to participate in detention programs at home or diversion programs which allows the offender to avoid conviction and, in some jurisdictions, seal a criminal record. Courts are finding more creative ways to conduct legal proceedings while keeping the justice system moving. Other potential impacts are witness unavailability. As time is paused, witnesses have difficulty in recalling events, the memory fades. Their willingness to cooperate and appear also tends to fade. Other investigatory challenges include video footage tends to no longer be available. Sometimes it gets recorded over if it is not used in a timely fashion. This is known as spoliation of evidence. Most things have a shelf life before they spoil, including certain types of evidence. There can also be trial difficulties. Juries are hard to seat in accordance with CDC guidelines and can be distracted by world circumstances and events. So, having a criminal case during COVID-19 could possibly work to your benefit as we all socially distance from one another and time is suspended.
So, what are the next steps you may ask? Be proactive! Learn the specifics about your case. Call, write, fax, or email your court to learn about what is happening. Do not sit back and wait for the court to contact you. Remain engaged in the process of whatever is happening in your jurisdiction. Stay healthy, productive, and law-abiding. Do your best to stay employed. If you do not have a job, or if you were laid off, then volunteer your time. Check out www.volunteermatch.org for opportunities to give-back. There are many opportunities to volunteer, some of which are even virtual. Be sure and track/log your volunteer hours.
Keep a journal or diary and jot down your hours. Resist the temptation to yield to substance abuse, succumb to stress or commit new crimes. Try to stay active even if you just walk around the block. Start working on Mitigation which means to minimize the degree to which you have been harmed by your criminal arrest. R&R Law Group has a free mitigation form that you can download here. The form will guide you through the steps of mitigating your loss. This process can be helpful in plea negotiations as it delves into who you are as a person. Things like work, school, family, and community can all play a role in mitigation. You are more than your past mistake and it should not define you going forward with your life. We all have a story to tell and we are the only person that can tell it. It is also what we do after we have made a mistake that makes all the difference.
You can also buy the book Beginning to Winning by Robert F. Gruler II. The book explains in detail his 9-step framework for finding success in any criminal case. It covers the 3 key principles for making the best decisions in criminal law. It also contains forms, motions, charts, and real-life examples that you can use in your case. You can order the book at www.BeginningToWinning.com or go to Amazon to order it.
In summary, remember COVID-19 may not materially change your case. COVID-19 has caused most courts to “pause” cases and there may be opportunities for better plea deals. Timing is important in criminal law and may present opportunities. The passing of time can create evidentiary problems (witnesses, other evidence) and court processes will be complicated moving forward. Start working on mitigation by using this time to show your positive contributions to the world. Stay healthy and law-abiding and supportive of those in need.
The mission statement of R&R Law Group in Scottsdale, Arizona is to help good people charged with crimes. We currently have a team of 7 lawyers that use the Beginning to Winning framework formula for success devised by founding partner Robert F. Gruler II as outlined in his book by the same title: Beginning to Winning.