When Can Criminal Courts Be Safely Reopened in Connecticut?

 Posted on July 06,2020 in Criminal Defense

East Hartford, CT criminal defense attorney

The entire country has seen changes like never before due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly every aspect of life has been affected by this public health crisis -- even the criminal justice system. Across the country, court systems have been operating with the bare minimum staff in only a handful of open courthouses. However, even with a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, some municipalities are planning to or have already begun to reopen. The state of Connecticut is one such municipality that has begun to reopen courthouses.

Barriers to Reopening

Reopening courthouses in the midst of a pandemic pose a challenge for the criminal justice system. COVID-19 is a virus that is mainly spread through respiratory droplets that are produced when you talk, sneeze, and cough. Being in close contact with people, which is closer than six feet apart from another person, increases the chances of transmitting the COVID-19 virus. In criminal matters, close contact with other people is often unavoidable. The accused are often subject to pre-trial detention in close quarters. Judges, lawyers, jury members, and other court staff, in addition to the accused, are subject to confined rooms with poor ventilation for most of the day, during which many people speak for extended periods of time.

Suggestions for Reopening

With the severity of the health crisis in the country, the National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) developed and published 10 guidelines that should be considered before court systems are safely reopened for jury trials. These suggestions include:

  1. Having medical experts certify that precautions have been taken and safety measures have been put into place to minimize the risk of transmitting the virus within the courtroom

  2. Not requiring high-risk individuals, including judges, lawyers, defendants, staff and witnesses, to participate in in-person proceedings or suffer any penalties or loss of rights for not appearing in person

  3. Ensuring any measures taken to accommodate court procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic only remain in place so long as the pandemic lasts

  4. Ensuring that any changes to court procedures or operations must not interfere with the attorney-client relationship or the ability of the attorney and client to confer with one another during proceedings

  5. Allowing defense attorneys and their staff to practice without conflict from fear of infection

  6. Keeping all constitutional, statutory, and customary rights of the accused safe from infringement, regardless of COVID-19 procedures

  7. Implementing virtual processes and methods of alternative communication when possible but making them temporary, tailored to specific needs, and in line with all constitutional rights

  8. Using alternative communication when the accused has been informed and has voluntarily consented to such process and has the assistance of legal counsel

  9. Structuring COVID-19 criminal justice policies and procedures in a way that does not exacerbate existing issues present in the system, such as racial and socioeconomic discrimination

  10. Implementing certain mechanisms to protect the rights of the accused, such as minimizing pretrial detention, allowing for liberal pretrial release and allow the accused to knowingly waive his or her right to a trial by jury for a bench trial in front of a judge

Connecticut’s Court System

In Connecticut, courts have started to phase open since mid-June. Currently, 17 courthouses are open across the state and are in operation five days a week. However, eight more courthouses are expected to reopen July 20, bringing the total number of open courthouses to 25. Masks that cover the mouth and nose are required for entry into all Connecticut courthouses and the number of people permitted to enter may be restricted. 

Contact a Hartford, CT Criminal Defense Attorney 

If you have had a run-in with the law during the coronavirus pandemic, you are likely wondering what the rules and procedures will be like during your criminal trial. Although policies and procedures are constantly changing by the day, our skilled East Hartford, CT criminal defense lawyer is here to help guide you through your time in the criminal justice system. At the Woolf Law Firm, LLC, we have been helping clients throughout Connecticut for more than 20 years. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 860-290-8690.







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