How COVID-19 Is Impacting Criminal Cases in Florida

On Friday, Chief Justice Charles T. Canady of the Florida Supreme Court made an unprecedented move: he issued an order requiring all jury trials and grand juries to be suspended for least two weeks in light of the coronavirus epidemic. Most legal proceedings—jury selection, criminal cases, civil trials, and others—have been affected by the order. This came hours after courts in Hillsborough County and others called off jury duty for Monday, March 16. It also came hours after Broward County closed all four of its courthouses for two weeks, with only certain “essential” due-process hearings going forward.

How Chief Justice Canady’s Order Affects Constitutional Rights

The offices of the Clerks of the Court in Volusia County and Flagler County are continuing to serve the public, but the Clerks of both offices urge people to use phone or email to request services as much as possible. They anticipate that the e-filing service will be busier than usual.

Justice Canady has also permitted courts to use remote devices and electronic tools to conduct legal proceedings whenever they are able. “The Order suspended only jury related proceedings. No other court proceedings were suspended pursuant to that Order, however, the rules regulating telephonic appearances have been waived and the use of telephonic appearance is to be used to maximum extent possible to limit face to face court appearances,” Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano wrote.

Most notably, the order has suspended the time periods that govern speedy trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings. The time periods that normally apply under the law will be suspended until at least March 30.

Hillsborough County Jails Forbidding In-House Family & Friend Visits

Among the changes to the rules include a suspension of all visits to jailed individuals. Friends and family may virtually ‘visit’ with inmates from home computers, but it costs $8 for 20 minutes. The Sheriff has promised to allow inmates two free five-minute phone calls later this week.

Starting Tuesday March 17, jails have closed their lobbies to slow the spread of COVID-19. First appearance court, which normally opens at 9 AM, will now open at 1 PM. Thankfully, attorneys can still visit their clients through a video visitation system.

What the Coronavirus Means for Your Criminal Case

One of our foundational rights as Americans is the right to a speedy trial and protection from undue imprisonment without cause. In Florida, that means you are entitled to your first appearance in court within 24 hours of your arrest. Juvenile defendants have the right to demand a speedy trial within 60 days of arrest.

With a two-week suspension of all speedy trial procedures, defendants will have to wait weeks longer to argue for their freedom than they would under normal circumstances. To put it frankly, the current measures to protect our community from COVID-19 impede our constitutional rights. Without visits, without the ability to go before the court, defendants are facing longer jail times and more isolated conditions.

Speak with Thomas & Paulk, P.A. During a Free Phone Consultation

Florida is dealing with an unprecedented health crisis, but our Tampa criminal defense lawyers remain focused on the crisis people are facing behind bars. We will continue to advocate for clients in whatever ways we can. Though court appearances and hearings have been delayed, arrests and prosecution has not, which makes our clients more vulnerable than they normally are. In these times, it’s more vital than ever to get an experienced defense litigator in your corner—someone who knows the system inside and out. Let our firm help you deal with bail and other legal issues caused by COVID-19.

Call (813) 321-7323 to speak with one of the attorneys at Thomas & Paulk for a free phone consultation. Learn your options while we figure out a way to get you home.

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