COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic Legal Advice: Speedy Trial, Release and the Coronavirus
On March 16, 2020, the United States Supreme Court did something they haven’t done in over 100 years; they postponed oral arguments. The last time this happened, it was 1918 and the Spanish Flu epidemic was tearing through the county.
Not only is the Coronavirus upending normal life as we know it, it is also grinding the legal system to a halt. The Florida Supreme Court postponed all jury selections and grand juries until April and local jurisdictions are canceling all nonessential court hearings to avoid mass exposure.
A defendant in a criminal case has a right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. While the Constitution does not define a speedy trial, the federal Speedy Trial Act and state laws provide some guidance on when the right may be violated. In some states, the prosecution has a certain number of days to bring a defendant to trial after they have been arraigned on an indictment.
On March 13, the Florida Supreme Court then ordered that Speedy Trial will be tolled (“stopped”) from March 13 until March 30, 2020. In Florida, speedy trial for felony cases is 175 days and misdemeanors are 90 days.
What this means is that the maximum time that is given for a case to proceed is now extended by approximately 17 days.
However, in an effort to reduce the at-risk population in the jail, some State Attorney’s Offices are currently willing to grant an Release on Recognizance (no financial bond) in certain non-violent cases OR for a felony charge where the State and Defense agreed to a resolution where jail is not part of the agreement. Further, some prosecutors are letting people out for “time served.” It seems now, more than ever, is the time to get your case resolved.
The Coronavirus has effectively shut down the majority of normal life as we know it. Unfortunately, for many people they are currently incarcerated with no obvious means to progress their cases while this pandemic grinds life to a halt. However, the Supreme Court specifically authorized the courts to continue to hold bond hearings along with limited other court functions. What that means is that even though your case is not currently progressing, you may still be able to obtain a reduction of your bond. Additionally, the State Attorney’s Office is also attempting to aid the jail in reducing its “at-risk” population by agreeing to bond reductions and even Releases on Recognizance (ROR) on cases where jail time is not being contemplated by the prosecutor. With that in mind, your attorney should not be sitting idly by even during this current pandemic. They may be able to secure a lower bond or even an ROR to reduce the chance that an individual sitting the jail is exposed to the Coronavirus.
Due to the difficulty of navigating the aforementioned issues that will or may arise, combined with the ever changing rules relating the Courts, the necessity to hire expert legal counsel to navigate you through these waters and the necessity to stay calm and attempt to be as reasonable and rational as possible is important.
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