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  • How Coronavirus Is Straining the Legal System

    Posted on by JACK MKHITARIAN

    Coronavirus has almost put a complete halt to the U.S. justice system – especially so in states under mandatory stay-at-home orders. It is not just federal court systems on hold. State courts have cancelled or postponed cases to encourage social distancing in their jurisdictions.

    In Connecticut and Massachusetts, for example, all federal court jury trials have been postponed until mid-April and possibly further, depending on the status of COVID-19 in the U.S. Most states have done the same, with some postponed until the summer and others without any definitive dates.

    State courts have only pushed out trial dates for defendants not in custody and those that include hearings for the “at risk” population.

    What Do COVID-19 Restrictions Mean for Your Case?

    If you have a pending case, you may experience some delays, especially for a jury trial. That is because jury trials make it almost impossible to conduct social distancing in the courtroom. Therefore, the court may feel it is best to postpone your trial.

    In some instances, the prosecution may offer a plea bargain while you wait – but do not be tempted to take that. Even if you are in custody, the postponement of your trial may open the door to a pre-trial release while you wait for your hearing to occur. Your defense attorney may be able to petition the court for a release that was denied initially, now that your date is set too far out to justify your retention.

    In New Mexico, some courts are still open and in operation, so not all cases will be postponed in our state as they have in others. Under the state’s Supreme Court, some cases may proceed, but they will be altered to ensure proper social distancing is still in place. To do that, your courtroom experience might involve:

    • Teleconferencing for hearings instead of meeting in person. Instead of gathering inside the courtroom, especially for a bench trial or motion hearing, your case may experience an audio and video teleconference instead. These will decrease in-person visits to the courthouse, and they are done via Google Meetings. The state has encouraged that most court cases use this route for any case that cannot be postponed (such as a case where the defendant is in custody).
    • No more than 15 people can be inside the courtroom. If your trial requires an in-person proceeding, then no more than 15 people can be inside the courtroom so that proper social distancing can be done inside.
    • Suspension of trials that have not begun. The court may suspend any criminal jury trial that has not started already. Suspension does not mean that the case is dismissed, so your criminal charges are still pending and the case will resume once the courtrooms can reopen safely. If your criminal case is suspended but you are in custody, your attorney may be able to request a pretrial release. If that pretrial release is denied, any time you serve will go toward your sentence (if you took a plea bargain or if sentencing occurs after the verdict).
    • Prohibiting your attorney from requesting a presiding judge to excuse themselves. Right now, the court needs to balance cases carefully between judges and plan for unexpected outages due to illness. Therefore, the Supreme Court has allowed a temporary suspension for any attorneys requesting that a judge excuse themselves from the case. Therefore, if you wanted a different judge, you will be unable to request one.

    Arrested? Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney

    Right now, you cannot risk fighting criminal charges alone. If you are detained, you may remain detained until an attorney fights for your pretrial release. With court dates up in the air right now, you are vulnerable, but you don’t have to be.

    Prosecutors may take advantage of the situation, especially defendants without an attorney. They may offer you a plea bargain to help you get out of jail earlier. But before you accept any deal, make sure you speak to an attorney.

    An attorney can help by:

    • Arguing for your pre-trial release immediately. If you are being accused of a non-violent crime, the chances of you being released before your trial go up, especially if the courts cannot set a trial date. You need an attorney to argue on your behalf and help you get out of jail so that you can be home, safe, and with loved ones until you get your day in court.
    • Negotiating with the prosecution even while court dates are postponed. It doesn’t matter if your court date is postponed, your attorney will still negotiate with the prosecution for a better outcome. You might be able to turn the tables and take advantage of the clogged court system by negotiating a deal for a lesser charge. Do not attempt to do this yourself, however. You need a skilled defense attorney who can review the facts of your case and determine if a plea bargain is in your best interest.
    • Arguing pretrial motions while your official hearing is postponed. Just because your trial date is postponed doesn’t mean your case is. Your attorney can still argue pretrial motions, whether in-person or through teleconferencing. These pretrial motions are critical, and they could impact the outcome of your case. So, you need an attorney right away who can start arguing against evidence and set you up for a better outcome when your trial does start.

    Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Now

    If you or a loved one was arrested during this pandemic, you have the right to representation – no matter the closing of the judicial system. Contact the aggressive defense team at New Mexico Criminal Law Offices today.

    Being accused of a crime is stressful enough, but even more so when you are in jail in the middle of a pandemic. Let our team argue for your release, negotiate a better deal, or work toward setting up your case for the best possible outcome, despite the trial dates being postponed.

    Schedule a free case evaluation now by calling our office or contacting us online to get started.