As the COVID-19 crisis continues to affect business as usual across the United States, the Florida court system is making changes to adhere to state and health guidelines to practice social distancing and make sure the virus remains at bay. If you’re currently in the process of a civil or criminal court case, you may be wondering what that means for you. While most law firms are transitioning to a teleconference model – taking depositions virtually or preparing briefs and other court filings from their home office – the Florida courts are following stricter measures.
Firstly, courts will deny entry to anyone that has traveled from Italy, Iran, South Korea, or China within the last 14 days, and those who live or have close contact with someone who has traveled to those locations recently. Those who have been asked to self quarantine are similarly banned; and certainly, anyone who has had the coronavirus is barred from coming into the courts. The courts advise anyone with symptoms, such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing, to contact a local health official, and alert court officials, instead of making in-person court appearances.
Updates Regarding Court Proceedings
Since mid-March, when this crisis began to unfold, the Florida Supreme Court took swift measures and made significant changes to their proceedings in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. The Court announced after careful deliberation that they would suspend grand jury proceedings, jury selection proceedings, and criminal and civil jury trials. In addition, speedy trial proceedings are also suspended, meaning criminal defendants may unfortunately have to ensure jail time if they weren’t able to make bail. These measures are to remain in place as long as the federal social distancing guidelines remain in effect – for now, those orders will be held until April 30, 2020.
Likewise, the court system will allow other essential hearings and proceedings to be conducted as planned, through the use of remote technology. In order to do so, courts have granted notaries permission to swear in witnesses remotely, and attorneys are permitted to argue their cases before judges. The Florida Supreme Court orders do, however, grant individual circuit or county judges the discretion to decide not to continue proceedings through remote or electronic mediums.
The keyword in the above directive, of course, is essential: Unless the court deems your court proceeding to be absolutely essential in order to prevent a massive backlog once the court system does open up again, it’s unlikely that your case will proceed as planned.
What Can I Do in the Meantime?
The COVID-19 crisis is affecting all of us in adverse ways, and this is naturally impacting scores of plans you may have had for your upcoming year. If you’re currently battling a criminal case, you may also be feeling like your rights aren’t being infringed upon due to the inability to have your case heard. While it’s still unclear whether a precedent exists for challenging the cancelling of hearings, given the unpredictable and incredibly severe nature of a global health pandemic, it’s important to stay tuned for ongoing legal developments and updates as the crisis – and its fallout – continue to unfold. Contact our office if you have concerns or questions.