The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted all aspects and areas of society. This includes the way courts are functioning and handling hearings at present in observance of the widely implemented social distancing measures and other health protocols.
In the sections below, you will learn about how Massachusetts Courts are functioning today in detail:
How State Courts Are Responding to COVID-19
Since March 13, 2020, there have been various orders from the Supreme Judicial Court (SCJ) regarding hearings. However, keep in mind that state courts are handling scheduling hearings differently. If you are trying to schedule one or have questions about how to proceed given the current circumstances, you must consult with your lawyer first.
An SJC Standing Order made effective last April 6, 2020, has officially closed courts for public and in-person hearings, with very limited exceptions. Most hearings are being held virtually, either by phone, videoconference, email or even through the electronic filing system. Furthermore, these are done without the physical presence of the parties, attorneys or other members of the public.
How Hearings are Currently Handled
As physical gatherings are prohibited, hearings for “emergency matters” (such as a request to release a detained individual) are done via teleconferencing.
In such a hearing, the individual in custody appears via video and the attorneys via phone. The judge and the court personnel are connected to them and are handling the hearing from the courtroom. Motions and other documents must be sent through fax or email for the judge to review.
Over the past months, dates for jury and bench trials in criminal and civil sessions have been repeatedly rescheduled and pushed back due to the uncertainty of the duration of the pandemic. This is also largely due to the accumulating back-log caused by the steady influx of cases across Massachusetts in the middle of the slowed down operations.
Because of this, bench trials (trials before a judge) may be conducted via video teleconferencing—but only on the condition that the parties and the court in question agree.
Furthermore, the SJC has ordered that any continuance is exempt from the computation of speedy trial. Statutes of limitation and other court-ordered deadlines are also delayed due to the unprecedented circumstances.
If you have a pending case that can be considered as an emergency matter, you should hire a lawyer to assist you if you can do so. With the overwhelming stress and burden on courts today, they are generally more responsive to a lawyer’s requests for an emergency hearing.
How Procedures Will Be Held During the Ongoing Pandemic
Here are some more orders issued by the United States District Court of Massachusetts regarding procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Pretrial detainees who have health circumstances or other extraordinary circumstances may be released after attorneys file motions to request their release.
- Felony pleas that may not be delayed due to potential “serious harm to the interests of justice” will be conducted by video teleconferencing or telephone conferencing.
- All jury trials that have been scheduled to begin on or before May 29, 2020, are ordered to be continued, pending further order from the Massachusetts Federal Court. However, an individual changed and detained pretrial can seek an exception to the order by way of a motion directed to the District Judge assigned to the case.
The unprecedented times have shaken up every aspect of society. Given the current circumstances, certain statutes, trials, and proceedings have been tolled indefinitely to avoid giving rise to serious health risks. If you have an urgent case, it is best to first consult with criminal attorneys in Boston, MA. They will be able to help you get the immediate assistance and proceeding you need in these sensitive times.
If you need a Boston criminal lawyer to help you with an urgent case, we’re the ones to approach. At The Fernandez Firm, we are available at any hour of the day should you require immediate assistance. Get in touch today and we will be glad to help you out!