The criminal justice system in the COVID-19 era
submitted by Caterina Saile, Esq., Saile & Saile, LLP
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every facet of our lives – from how we live, to how we work and the way we socialize. The criminal justice system has not been immune to these effects. The March shutdown in Pennsylvania halted almost all cases proceeding through the justice system.
This applied to new arrests and cases that were pending trial. During the mandatory court closure, all of the courts worked tirelessly to create and implement systems for the maximum safety and protection of everyone involved.
Understanding that timing is extremely important in criminal law, the courts continued to work on those matters that required immediate attention, balancing those individual rights against the necessary safety precautions.
It is important to note that the closure delays are no fault of the court, so criminal cases will not be dismissed solely based on court closures.
Beginning with the reopening of Pennsylvania courts in June, the courts have been trying to move cases along as quickly and judiciously as possible.
Not surprisingly, rule number one in every court in Bucks County – wear a mask.
We have heard repeatedly that masks are essential to preventing the spread of COVID-19.
As an attorney, I will say this has been the hardest part of the new normal in our courts, mainly because the business of lawyering relies upon talking.
This includes face-to-face communication with clients, other attorneys and judges.
The courts have also implemented recommended social distancing rules.
The Bucks County Court of Common Pleas has taken many steps to limit personal contact in the courthouse.
Criminal cases are now divided across multiple courtrooms and additional afternoon hearing times have been added to the court’s calendar as well.
Each courtroom has designated seating to guide participants and ensuring that they can maintain a social distance of six feet. Shields have been placed between courtroom participants and court staff to protect all participants.
Jury trials have also been suspended until September 28th, 2020. The use of advanced communication technology has been implemented whenever practical.
As the courts have had to revise their daily way of operating, our office has as well.
Despite the stay-at-home order, Saile & Saile, LLP has been able to continue to work without interruption on behalf of our clients.
We were prepared for pandemic-related closures and had technology in place to effectively work remotely.
We are able to keep in constant contact with our clients and to keep them updated on the delays in the court process as well. We have also implemented many changes to comply with CDC health and safety guidelines.
With the reopening of Bucks County, we have transitioned to a ‘masks only’ office policy, have installed a protective shield in our front office space and have reorganized our personal workspaces to allow for maximum social distancing between staff.
Telephone consultations with clients are encouraged not only for the health of all, but also to accommodate the changes our clients have experienced with their work schedules and childcare due to COVID-19.
To that end, we have expanded our telephone consultation hours to include evenings because we understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and a 9-to-5 day does not work for everyone during this challenging time.