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Courts in the Zoomworld

May 23, 2020 Criminal Law and Procedure

We’re entering the third month of the Covid-19 shutdown. Last night, Governor Whitmer extended the shutdown order until June 12, while relaxing some guidelines. 

What do the Courts Look Like?

In Washtenaw County, no in-person hearings are being held. For a while when the shutdown first started, there were a few in-person hearings. ArborYpsi Law appeared for two in-person preliminary examinations (a sort of mini-trial early in a felony case). Preliminary exams have since stopped being in-person. For now, preliminary exams will to be held in-person are moved to August, and maybe further. 

All ArborYpsi Law bench trials (trials heard by a judge) in Washtenaw County and in other counties to be held in-person have been moved to August. Jury trials are cancelled and postponed indefinitely. All pending ArborYpsi Law jury trials were pushed to August or simply cancelled. The August dates are simply placeholder dates until the courts know when jury trials will resume. More on that below. 

For most of the first two months of the shutdown, court dockets were moving forward for defendants who were in jail pending the outcome of the case. These cases were being heard by Zoom. Defendants who were not in custody were slowly being added to Zoom dockets as courts became more familiar with the technology. 

Moving Forward

Courts are trying to add more and more hearings by Zoom. I would anticipate that Washtenaw County courts will be hearing cases only by Zoom at least until July. The Michigan Supreme Court has laid out a plan to get all courts back to business. The process will be moved forward in phases.

Phase One is the first phase of re-opening. Courts cannot start phase one until the shutdown order is over. With the shutdown order going to June 12, courts cannot start phase one. Getting to Phase One means a particular court has shown it has taken certain precautionary measures for basic safety. Phase Four is completely open. Phase Four requires the Center of Disease Control declaring the pandemic to be over. Each court moves through the phases individually, not all as a group. The phases are tied to community rates of infections.

The court system has been grappling with how to keep cases moving. Courts are such vital parts of each community. Courts are where people and businesses can peacefully resolve their disputes. People charged with crimes have a constitutional interest in having their case heard efficiently 

Zoomworld

Zoom is videoconferencing technology that has been made popular in the pandemic. It feels like no one had head of Zoom pre-pandemic but now Zoom is everywhere. Zoom has become the way courts are handling business. Zoom offers the advantage of keeping the courts moving. With every advantage a technology offers there are disadvantages.

Our court system is predicated on being an in-person business. Zoom technology allows us to get connected remotely but it’s a distant connection. A person who only appears only by video runs the risk of being unable to make the same impression or impact on the judge and prosecutor they may be able to with an in-person court appearance. 

Navigating the Zoomworld

ArborYpsi Law is moving forward in this brave new Zoomworld to represent clients. To provide the best representation it’s important to understand the technology and use it as effectively as possible. ArborYpsi Law is committed to providing the same quality representation virtually that it did in-person.

No Jury Trials for A Long Time

A jury trial is the opposite of social distancing. During a pandemic involving an airborne virus, courts are just not going to bring a jury pool of 50 people to court for a case. At this point in time, jury trials will realistically resume once the CDC declares the pandemic over. We have no idea when this could be. If you have a case headed for jury trial, do not expect to have the case tried this summer or fall at a minimum. 

There has been discussion of zoom jury trials. Zoom works well for business meetings. As for courts, Zoom works fine for pre-trials and simple plea and sentencing hearings. However, zoom does not seem to be the future of jury trials. Right now there is not much official discussion that a zoom jury trial is likely to replace the real jury trial in which lawyers argue their case standing next to the jury box.

Call AYL at 734.883.9584

Call Sam Bernstein at 734.883.9584 or e-mail at bernstein@arboryspilaw.com

Sam Bernstein is a Washtenaw County Criminal Defense Lawyer

ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI