The Coronavirus has impacted all of us. From Asia to Europe to America, the Coronavirus is a global pandemic. Over the last couple weeks in Michigan, we have seen schools shut down, followed by a shutdown of restaurants and bars. Governor Whitmer ordered all non-essential businesses to shut down beginning March 24 and continuing to at least April 13.
States across the country, including New York, California, and Ohio, have also ordered non-essential businesses to close. Each state defines “non-essential” differently.
Courts are an essential business, and the courts are open in a limited capacity. For criminal cases, the courts are only handling cases for defendants who are in custody, meaning they are in jail because there is no bond. Most court cases are not being heard during this shutdown period.
To fight the Coronavirus, public health officials encourage social distancing, the practice of staying at least 6 feet from other people to help reduce the transmission of the virus. Closing businesses should reduce contact between people. Help fight the virus by staying home and being healthy.
What Does This Mean for The Court System?
There will not be jury trials for at least several months. Right now, people are worried about getting the Coronavirus. A jury requires either 7 or 14 people to sit close together for hours, and also to sit together in a small room. This would defy social distancing.
It would be unwise for a criminal defense attorney to schedule a jury trial until the pandemic is over. People are scared to contract the virus and rightfully so. Forcing people to sit with other people in a courtroom is not the right move for people we represent. The people sitting in the jury box do not want to be there because of the virus (most jurors don’t want to be there anyways). The jury will take this out on the accused for forcing them to be there.
It’s unclear when the courts will fully open up again. The Governor’s order extends to Monday, April 13th. But there is no guarantee the courts will open for business then. The pandemic may very well continue past then, forcing the closure to continue.
What’s Going on in Washtenaw County?
Initially, Washtenaw County courts closed from March 16th to April 3. The Governor’s order extends the closure ten days. This led to the adjournment of about three weeks of cases.
In Washtenaw County, the Courts are all operating out of the Service Center, which is the courthouse attached to the jail, across the street from my office. By using this courthouse deputies do not need transport in-custody defendants to courthouses around the county. Defendants can appear in front of judges by video that transmits between the jail and courtroom. For some hearings, defendants will need to and have the right to be physically present in the courtroom. In addition, some judges are having defense lawyers and prosecutors make virtual appearances in court. This is done through apps for devices like Zoom.
How is ArborYpsi Law Dealing with the Shutdown?
At ArborYpsi Law, we have several in-custody hearings per week, so we are still going to court. You can trust that we are taking all precautions as urged by health officials, such as social distancing, frequent handwashing, and using hand sanitizer.
Many hearings have postponed, and several jury and bench trials were rescheduled.
Per the Governor’s Order, we are not supposed to meet either potential or existing clients at the office. However, we are available by phone or Skype 24/7.
Can I Get in Trouble for Violating the Executive Order?
Yes, a willful violation of the Governor’s Order is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a fine, or both. As a practical matter, the police do not seem likely to run around handing out tickets to individuals. The idea is that people will follow the Order out of feelings of social pressure and responsibility. The main point of the order is to close business, which are places where people congregate. Businesses that remain open will certainly be subject to ticketing and fines.
Nevertheless, you can still get in trouble for violating the Order. Police are still out and about. While the courts are closed, persons arrested may still get charged, there just might be a delay in charging while the court are only processing essential cases.
Call ArborYpsi Law at 734-883-9584
Contact Sam Bernstein at 734.883.9584 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.
Sam Bernstein is an Ann Arbor Criminal Defense Lawyer.