As of this writing (March 2020), the Coronavirus aka “Wuhan Virus” is understandably the world’s number one topic. The purpose of this post is NOT to give health or social distancing advice, rather it is to help criminal defendants, witnesses, victims, et al in the Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Manatee counties know what to expect with their cases the next several weeks.
To sum up: Most courts are shut down for all cases but what is considered “critical matters”. That means courtrooms will ONLY handle cases of new arrests and certain “in custody” matters where the case can be resolved and a person can be released from county jail, freeing up much needed space.
What this means: Per Supreme Court order: ALL jury trials (criminal AND civil) are canceled for the next two weeks. Most injunctions, civil matters, traffic court, municipal ordinance violations have been reset until late April or May, 2020.
Per the jud6.org website: “In the meantime many civil, family and probate hearings and mediation sessions previously set may be held by the use of electronic means, primarily conference calls. Counsel or pro se parties should understand that the Supreme Court order does not permit in person hearings for non-essential proceedings
Unfortunately, until further order of the court, proceedings not discussed above will be cancelled or suspended. This includes but is not limited to; traffic court hearings of all kinds, local ordinance violations, simplified divorces, small claims matters, mass dockets or calendar calls, small claims pre-trials and any court dockets that would have required the gathering of large numbers of people. Such matters will all need to be rescheduled and conducted after the pandemic emergency passes”.
Per the Supreme Court Order 20-15, the following consist of what is considered a “critical matter”:
“The Supreme Court has temporarily suspended all jury trials. Essential proceedings listed in the Supreme Court AOSC20-15 will continue to be performed by the court. These are:
1. First appearance hearings, where a defendant appears before a judge within 24 hours of their arrest.
2. Criminal arraignments, where a defendant not in custody enters a plea, but only as necessary.
3. Bond motions for individuals in custody.
4. Detention hearings, where a judge has to decide whether a child should be held.
5. Shelter hearings, when a judge has to decide whether to remove a child from the home.
6. Hearings on petitions for temporary injunctions relating to the safety of an individual.
7. Petitions by law enforcement agencies for risk-protection orders, where someone allegedly posing a threat to someone else or themselves risks losing temporary custody of their firearms.
8. Hearings on petitions for the appointment of an emergency temporary guardian.
9. Hearings to determine whether an individual should be involuntarily committed under the state’s Baker or Marchman acts.
10. Hearings on petitions for extraordinary writs as necessary to protect to protect constitutional rights.
11. Proceedings related to a violation of quarantine or isolation, a violation of an order to limit travel, a violation of public or private building closures, and a violation of a curfew.”
While conducting these mission-critical proceedings, judges shall employ all methods practicable to minimize risk of COVID-19 exposure to the individuals involved in the proceedings and to the general public. ALL PERSONS ARE REQUESTED TO AVOID UNNECESSARY ATTENDANCE FOR SUCH ESSENTIAL PROCEEDINGS.
Part Two: Coming soon