From violations of shelter-in-place that result in misdemeanors to delayed jury trials due to shuttered courtrooms, Covid-19 has had some drastic effects on the criminal law process.
One of the most crucial rights you have as a criminal defendant is a right to a speedy trial. So how does that square with the novel coronavirus global pandemic? In many areas throughout the country, including Florida, Covid-19 is creating a worrying backlog of criminal cases. At the beginning of April, jury cases were suspended in the Sunshine State. In some states, they are finishing trials already underway and suspending all new trials. Some states, like New York, have suspended trials altogether. Since February, New York’s backlog of criminal cases has risen by nearly a third to 39,200.
Growing Pressure on the Sixth Amendment
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees your right to a speedy trial—a cornerstone of criminal law. That is becoming increasingly stressed as cases are delayed due to Covid-19. But in some cases, it can work in the defendant’s favor. The court has the authority to dismiss a case or to set aside a conviction or a sentence if someone’s right to a speedy trial is violated. With that said, some states have temporarily extended the speedy trial deadline during this global pandemic. Once this pandemic passes, this issue will likely be raised in courtrooms throughout the U.S.
Social Distancing and Masks Further Complicate Matters
For those courtrooms that have reopened, mask-wearing makes cross-examination and jury selection particularly difficult. Attorneys need to see the faces of potential jurors and witnesses before them in order to gauge their reactions to questions and the presentation of evidence. Plus, how would a jury react to someone accused of armed robbery if he appeared before them in a mask? For those states conducting jury trials under the new normal, courtrooms are reporting that fewer African Americans and elderly citizens are showing up for jury duty citing their increased risk for Covid-19 infection.
The Rise in Plea Bargaining
It’s true that the vast majority of criminal cases are resolved through plea bargains. Defendants who plead guilty in exchange for a lesser charge or sentence, a reduction in the number of charges, or some other concession, is on the rise. Because of Covid-19 both the defendant and the prosecutor have a greater incentive to reach a plea bargain and alleviate some of the pressure on the docket backlog and allow defendants to avoid a jail sentence. Jails have been exceptionally hard-hit by Covid-19 infection. Still, guilty convictions have long-lasting and serious consequences. Defense attorneys are still urging their clients to fight for a clean record rather than rushing to a guilty plea due to the coronavirus.
If you feel that your criminal case is being unfairly pressured by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s imperative that you seek the advice of a proven, trial-tested criminal defense attorney like those at Fernandez & Hernandez, Attorneys At Law. You can reach us for advice 24/7 by calling (813) 229-5353. Hablan español.