How Will The Coronavirus Affect My Criminal Case?

You may have heard that New York has shut down almost all criminal courts for the foreseeable future.  What does that mean for you?  As this is an evolving situation the lawyers at LaMarche Safranko Law will amend this information as needed.

I Was Arrested For A New Crime, How Will My Case Be Handled During The Coronavirus Outbreak?

Arraignments, which are the first thing that happens in court after an arrest, are still happening.  If you are arrested after standard business hours, it is likely you will be taken to the local court in the jurisdiction you were arrested where you will be arraigned. An arraignment is when the Judge advises you of the charge you were arrested for and enters a not guilty plea on your behalf.  This is how it was usually done prior to COVID-19 and will likely continue this way, as there is unlikely to be more than five (5) people in the courtroom at that time.  Should you find yourself arrested during the day, it is likely you will be taken a County Court for your arraignment.

County and Supreme Court Judges may handle cases differently than their counterparts in towns or local courts and may have different opinions regarding the release of a defendant/the issuing of bail.  While bail reform is still the law of New York State, there are many charges where bail may be set.  If bail is set at an amount you cannot make, jail is a scary reality.  Few places are less safe than being locked in at a correctional facility during an outbreak.  This fear can be magnified if you are at higher risk to suffer from complications relating to COVID-19.

Don’t be afraid to ask law enforcement or court staff for the opportunity to use sanitizer or soap and water to wash your hands frequently.  If the officer requires observation as you do so, don’t let that discourage you from being safe and practicing good personal hygiene during this time.  Even if law enforcement or staff are themselves taking precautions, there is no knowing what germs may be present from others that were in your position just minutes or hours before you.

What Will Happen To My Pending Criminal Case During The Coronavirus Pandemic?

Effective Monday, March 16, 2020 all felony cases where a client is not in custody, are administratively adjourned until further notice, meaning there will be no appearances or movement on a case.  Work may still be able to be done on your case depending on where in the process it is currently waiting.  If a client is in custody, their case will also be adjourned, or possibly handled via video conferencing, if available.  Misdemeanors will likely be administratively adjourned, meaning there will be no required court appearances during this time.  Some local courts have already adjourned appearances until May and June 2020.

Court personnel may still be available to handle “essential” applications.  “Essential” is the term currently being used by the state and it is not currently known exactly what all this will entail.  There is no hard and fast rule as to what qualifies, however a great many things may be an emergency to you – orders of protection, bail, warrants, probation violations, and driving privileges are just a few of the things that may be fundamental to you being able to protect yourself and your loved ones during this unprecedented time.

What Should I Do While My Pending Criminal Case Is Adjourned?

First and foremost, you should take care of the health of yourself and your family.  After doing all you can and remaining vigilant, you should call and remain in contact with  your lawyer.

You and your lawyer should discuss the strategy during this possibly long, unprecedented adjournment.  Are there things you can be doing, safely and reasonably, that can help your case?  By way of examples:

  • Are on a probation violation but unable to continue meeting face-to-face with your officer, can you engage in video or phone conferencing to show your continued compliance?
  • If you are actively treating for substance abuse or mental health issues can you continue your treatment through online means?
  • Can you participate in online educational or vocational classes?
  • Are there court-related online safety courses you could participate in including safe driving, anger management, or diversity training?

Every case is unique and there are a limitless number of ways you can help yourself and your case, while not risking your health or others.  In a few weeks or months, when appearances are starting to be scheduled again, the actions you took during this time can help set you apart and prove your value to society to the court.

This is a fast-changing situation and you should check back often to ensure that you are caught up on what is expected of you during this time frame.  While everyone should care most for their health and well-being, calling or emailing with your lawyer is still important.  In doing so, you can be ready to put this trying time behind you and have the fresh start everyone is looking forward to for many reasons.