As everyone knows, COVID-19 has changed how almost everything in our society works. So, I thought I would address what changes I have seen to the criminal justice system.
First, you should check with your local courthouse before showing up, because every county is handling things in their own way. This can make my job difficult, because I cannot always prepare a client for how their case will proceed until I call a clerk to find out the local practices and procedures.
Second, you may actually have to attend court remotely, via a video app. However, after reading my first comment above, you should not be surprised to hear that not every county is using the same apps for court appearances. Also, the links to these court proceedings are generally not publicly available, which means you must call the court clerk and provide an email address for them to send you the link.
Third, most courts are working on a hybrid system of in person and remote, but some still prefer you to be remote, even though you have the option of coming in person. If you decide to appear in person, you will notice that mask requirements and social distancing are being enforced. Often, this includes limiting who can enter the courtroom to only the defendant. This can be frustrating for friends and family who want to be present to support their loved ones, but who are not allowed to enter the courtroom.
Fourth, many jury trials have been cancelled and most have not been rescheduled until fall or winter. But that’s not true for every case, and everyone is still figuring out the safest way to have a criminal jury trial while also being fair to the defendant. An obvious issue from COVID-19 is how easy it is to judge a witness’s credibility when they are wearing a mask? Another issue is how diverse of a jury pool will show up, when many of our citizens are afraid of being in close quarters with strangers? Additionally, a benchmark of our legal process is having an open court system where the public can watch the proceedings. Will the public be allowed in to watch these trials or will they be limited to attorneys and the defendant?
Finally, court dates have been pushed back, and with the increase in numbers, I will be shocked if criminal cases are not pushed out at least one more time. This means that an attorney cannot realistically tell you how long your case will take or when it could be set for trial. This is especially frustrating for me, because one of the things I pride myself in doing is educating my clients and preparing them for the road ahead. The current circumstances affect my ability to do that.
This is what we know today. Even so, I do expect the Kentucky Supreme Court to issue an order sooner rather than later, which of course means all of this is subject to change. Please contact me at 859-242-3487 if you need assistance from an experienced criminal defense attorney.