How do I go to court during COVID-19?

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While the country is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and determining plans for re-opening, states like Florida are trying to curb their numbers of new infections while keeping their court systems open. Florida has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic amounting in more than 648,000 total cases and more than 11,000 deaths. The daily rate of new cases has decreased over the month of August in comparison to the spikes in mid-July.

The Florida court system has been implementing new plans to ensure that they move forward while trying to protect those working for the justice system, and those using it. The constitution gives those who have been accused of committing a crime a right to swift justice and the State of Florida is doing what it can to uphold that right.

Impending Court Proceedings

You may be scheduled to have an upcoming court proceeding and wondering if it’s safe for you to attend court. It’s important to speak with your legal defense team about your pending case because some cases have been postponed but others have been able to move forward thanks to virtual conferencing technologies.

Some cases are being presented virtually and other less important matters are being screened via telephone. Depending on the charges you face, you may have to present yourself before a judge virtually, or you may learn that your case is postponed while the prosecution deals with more pressing matters. Click here for more information if you need support in determining the details of your case.

Public Health and Safety Precautions

On April 21, 2020, the State of Florida established the Workgroup on the Continuity of Court Operations and Proceedings During and After COVID-19 to make recommendations on court continuations and proceedings. The workgroup established the following phases as guidelines for how the Florida Justice System would proceed as the pandemic ebbs and flows:

  • Phase 1: personal contact is not recommended, courts are closed, and in-person proceedings are rare
  • Phase 2: limited in-person contact is authorized for certain proceedings as long as protective measures are taken
  • Phase 3: Protective measures are relaxed and in-person contact is more authorized
  • Phase 4: COVID-19 no longer poses a health risk

Florida courts are operating in phases one and two at the moment so court proceedings are happening with protective measures in place. A weekly snapshot for each court system can be found here.

Workgroup Tasks

The Court Proceedings COVID-19 Workgroup has been reviewing cases to determine which of them can be handled remotely, and which cases require in-person proceedings. They’ve also been determining which order they’ll try cases based on their severity.

Administration Orders

On August 12th, 2020 the Florida Court System issued two administration orders that outlined the following guidelines:

  • Criteria for the transition between phases
  • Human resources professionals at each court to address potential COVID-19 exposure of court employees and judges
  • Criteria for health screening upon entry into a courthouse
  • Guidance for monitoring local conditions and public health data while considering expanding in-person proceedings
  • Methodologies to determine deteriorating local health conditions that require amendments to the local operational plan and return to earlier phases

Are online trials fair?

The State of Florida created this workgroup in order to help ensure that the cases tried virtually are absolutely necessary and that defendants are being treated fairly. It has been up to the court system to constantly reaccess the effectiveness, fairness, and safety of all individuals involved. It’s important for you, the defendant, to work with legal representation that can adequately defend your needs now more than ever.

Story by Michael Davis. Davis is the content director of Miami’s On the Map Marketing Inc.

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