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Prosecutors Responses to Covid-19

Prosecutors must use their discretion to divert people away from the system or to less restrictive sanctions.

Last Updated: November 18, 2021
Published: March 27, 2020

Prosec­utors control the entry points into the crim­inal justice system. They decide whether a case that began with an arrest is prosec­uted and what charges are brought, and they have signi­fic­ant influ­ence over how a case progresses from there. This consid­er­able discre­tion can be used to respond proact­ively to a crisis, like Covid-19, by divert­ing people away from crowded courtrooms, jails, and pris­ons, or post­pon­ing cases and hear­ings that are not urgent. 

New Prosec­u­tions

Bren­nan Center Recom­mend­a­tion: Prosec­utors should decline to initi­ate new prosec­u­tions for low-level offenses that do not implic­ate public safety.

  • Baltimore State’s Attor­ney Marilyn Mosby announced that, in order to curb the spread of coronavirus in the local jail, her office would dismiss pending charges against anyone arres­ted for drug posses­sion, pros­ti­tu­tion, tres­passing, minor traffic offenses, open container, and urin­at­ing in public.
  • The Durham District Attor­ney’s Office imple­men­ted a pretrial release policy in Febru­ary 2019 in which prosec­utors recom­mend people charged with nonvi­ol­ent crimes offenses to be released from custody without bail. Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the office has begun step­ping up this review process to identify people who can be safely released through either modi­fic­a­tion of their release condi­tions or dispos­i­tions of their case, namely those over the age of 60 and with preex­ist­ing health condi­tions. The office is also work­ing with local police to ensure that only those who pose a risk to community safety are arres­ted and detained.
  • Brook­lyn’s District Attor­ney announced on March 17 that his office would imme­di­ately decline to prosec­ute low-level offenses that don’t jeop­ard­ize public safety. 
  • On April 28th, 2020, Arizon­a’s Mari­copa County Attor­ney’s Office announced plans to delay thou­sands of charges in order to keep people out of courtrooms and slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
  • Seattle District Attor­ney Dan Satter­berg is only filing charges in excep­tion­ally viol­ent cases, after which he would file motions to continue arraign­ment for other felon­ies for 30 days.
  • Follow­ing videos of viol­ent arrests and complaints that the NYPD was unfairly target­ing people of color, four of New York City’s five district attor­neys announced that they will not prosec­ute social distan­cing arrests. 
  • On Febru­ary 1, the Wayne County, Michigan prosec­utor announced that their office would dismiss all charges related to viol­a­tions of Gov. Whit­mer’s coronavirus exec­ut­ive orders.
  • On Febru­ary 17, Chit­tenden County State’s Attor­ney Sarah George stated that Vermont should work to pass policies to decrim­in­al­ize drugs. The push for the bill comes after an increase in drug-related deaths during the pandemic and a lack of support for Vermonters who use drugs in the state’s Covid-19 relief response. However, not all lawmakers are support­ive of the bill, and the state’s attor­ney general does not endorse even limited decrim­in­al­iz­a­tion of certain substances.
  • On March 26, the Depart­ment of Justice commit­ted to continu­ing to invest­ig­ate complex Covid-related crim­inal and civil enforce­ment actions through­out 2021. This increased enforce­ment will be related to the Paycheck Protec­tion Program, health­care, secur­it­ies, and govern­ment contracts and procure­ment.
  • On March 30, The city of Baltimore announced that it will no longer prosec­ute low-level offenses such as drug posses­sion, pros­ti­tu­tion, and minor traffic viol­a­tions. The decision was in response to the city’s choice to make fewer arrests to limit the spread of Covid-19 over the past year.
  • Although Utah’s recent cash bail reform bill was repealed by the state Supreme Court, Salt Lake County District Attor­ney Sim Gill will continue to request pre-trial release without requir­ing bail for most minor infrac­tions. 
  • In June, research­ers from Missouri State Univer­sity released a report detail­ing the pandem­ic’s effect on guilty pleas in crim­inal court. The team found that the risk of Covid-19 expos­ure likely pushed an increas­ing number of inno­cent people to plead guilty.
  • On Septem­ber 27th, Los Angeles County District Attor­ney George Gascon announced motions to dismiss an estim­ated 60,000 marijuana convic­tions. After identi­fy­ing thou­sands of eligible cases in county court records, Gascon looks to expunge what he sees as the “racially dispar­ate and overly punit­ive effects of the nation’s war on drugs”. 
  • Judges and prosec­utors in New York continue to be criti­cized heav­ily for up-char­ging offenses in order to hold defend­ants on bail in order to gain "extra lever­age in their cases to win plea deals.” The recent atten­tion paid to the inhu­mane and unsafe condi­tions at Rikers Island have exas­per­ated the issue.
  • On Octo­ber 19, a report from research­ers at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that Baltimore’s non-prosec­u­tion policy for drug posses­sion and pros­ti­tu­tion led to fewer low-level arrests as well as close to no rearrests for those whose charges were dropped. The policy, enacted at the start of the pandemic, was stud­ied for 14 months. The study concluded that these offenses should be recon­sidered as public health prob­lems and not prosec­ut­able issues of public safety.

Pretrial Deten­tion/Cash Bail

Bren­nan Center Recom­mend­a­tion: Prosec­utors should not request pretrial deten­tion or impos­i­tion of cash bail for anyone charged with a non-viol­ent offense.

  • In Febru­ary 2020, Alabama legis­lat­ors passed HB 113, which prohib­its cash bail for certain offenses, and sets a minimum bond amount of $300 per offense for misde­mean­ors and viol­a­tions.
  • The State’s Attor­ney’s Office for the Fourth Judi­cial Circuit of Flor­ida ordered that defend­ants charged with nonvi­ol­ent misde­meanor or felony offenses, whose cases are not resolved on first appear­ance and who do not pose a public safety or flight risk, should be released on their own recog­niz­ance, other non-monet­ary condi­tions of release, or minimal monet­ary bond.
  • In New Orleans, judges of the Orleans Parish Crim­inal Court have ordered the release of certain low-level offend­ers – includ­ing those arres­ted for fail­ure to appear on proba­tion status and contempt of court – and pretrial defend­ants charged with misde­mean­ors or who have a bond in effect but tested posit­ive for drug tests. District Attor­ney Leon Canniz­zaro has said he largely agrees with the court’s decision.
  • Since the Jack­son­ville State Attor­ney’s Office issued a memo in March call­ing for the release of people from incar­cer­a­tion, the number of people held in the Duval County jails has dropped by 21 percent. Much of the decline can be attrib­uted to the fall in misde­meanants sentenced to serve jail time. 
  • On June 10, a Yolo County Super­ior Court Judge ignored the State Judi­cial Coun­cil’s order to issue zero bail for misde­meanor cases and some felon­ies, order­ing $20,000 bail for a defend­ant with no prior viol­ent crim­inal history.
  • The State Judi­cial Coun­cil of Cali­for­nia has voted to rescind the emer­gency rule that set bail at $0 for people accused of lower-level crimes. It is set to be removed on June 20.
  • On June 22, the Supreme Judi­cial Court of Massachu­setts suppor­ted local District Attor­neys’ requests for flex­ib­il­ity on pretrial deten­tion. This allows DA’s offices to prior­it­ize the release of low-level offend­ers, and to reserve pretrial deten­tion for viol­ent offenses.
  • Despite the fact that jails and pris­ons are often epicen­ters for Covid-19, Mary­land State Attor­ney Marilyn Mosby’s office has contin­ued to hold people without bond during the pandemic. Since March 20, the defend­ants in roughly a third of the cases charged in Mary­land have been held without bail. 
  • On July 30th, 2020, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Jeffer­son County Alabama announced that new incar­cer­a­tions will be limited to viol­ent crim­in­als who cannot make bond.
  • Accord­ing to the Center for Court Innov­a­tion, the roll­backs of New York bail reforms may produce a 16% increase in the indi­vidu­als eligible for bail, mean­ing they would also be eligible for pretrial deten­tion.
  • In a wave of progress­ive elec­tions, prosec­utors across the coun­try have prom­ised to end cash bail prac­tices in their juris­dic­tions, in response to concerns about both Covid-19 and legal system equity.
  • On Septem­ber 16th, 2020, Vermont’s Chit­tenden County State’s Attor­ney, Sarah George, direc­ted her office to stop request­ing bail for defend­ants facing low-level charges. Defend­ing her decision, George stated that the “cash bail system in our coun­try is predic­ated on the false assump­tion that people will not appear for court unless an arbit­rary amount of cash is paid,” and that “research…has found this to be consist­ently false.”
  • On Octo­ber 1st, 2020, the Utah state legis­lature passed a reform bill to effect­ively elim­in­ate cash bail in favor of a process to “release people accused of low-level crimes using the least restrict­ive means, like an ankle monitor or drug test­ing. Judges must consider the risk to public safety the defend­ant poses, as well as their like­li­hood of return­ing to court.” The bill was subsequently repealed by the state Supreme Court.
  • In Janu­ary, the newly elec­ted Pima County attor­ney Laura Conover announced that her depart­ment would stop asking judges to set cash bail for non-viol­ent suspects.
  • On March 29th, 2021, Cali­for­ni­a’s Supreme Court elim­in­ated cash bail for those who can’t afford it, stat­ing that “condi­tion­ing free­dom solely on whether an arrestee can afford bail is uncon­sti­tu­tional.”
  • On Septem­ber 19th, the Hous­ton Chron­icle repor­ted that Harris County has more than 94,000 pending crim­inal cases. This pandemic-worsened back­log leaves people sitting in jail, wait­ing for their day in court or for their case to hope­fully be dismissed. It is expec­ted that it would take more than a year to get through the cases. 
  • On Septem­ber 29th, Manhat­tan District Attor­ney Cyrus Vance Jr. suspen­ded the prac­tice of setting bail for low-level cases, instead prior­it­iz­ing super­vised release and non-cash condi­tions. In an email sent to trial divi­sion attor­neys, the criteria for bail to be waived included a require­ment for the charge to be non-viol­ent, as well as for the person being charged to not have been convicted of viol­ent or sex-related crimes in the last 10 years. Those who have failed to appear in a case are also not considered under the new guidelines.
  • On Septem­ber 27th, hundreds of people gathered outside of New York City court­houses to protest the send­ing of people await­ing trial to Riker’s Islands, where at least 12 men have died this. John McFar­land, an organ­izer with VOCAL-New York, proclaimed that the jail’s condi­tions are “inter­na­tion­ally recog­nized forms of torture” and that send­ing any person Riker’s right now is “a poten­tial death sentence.” 
  • On Octo­ber 13, Santa Clara County in Cali­for­nia announced that the number of people under altern­at­ive forms of pretrial super­vi­sion, such as elec­tronic monit­or­ing, home deten­tion, and mandat­ory coun­sel­ing, has quad­rupled in the last 4 years. The increase is partially due to Covid-19 restric­tions, along with a statewide shift away from cash bail.
  • On Novem­ber 10, HB2003 passed the Utah Legis­lature, reform­ing pre-trial deten­tion and usher­ing a move away from the cash-bail model by requir­ing judges to consider finan­cial abil­ity to pay when setting bail amounts.
  • On Novem­ber 15, the ACLU of Flor­ida filed a class action lawsuit against Manatee and Sara­sota counties, alleging that 11 people held in pre-trial deten­tion have had their rights viol­ated because they were not offered altern­at­ive condi­tions for release after testi­fy­ing that they could not afford cash bail.

Releases

Bren­nan Center Recom­mend­a­tion: Prosec­utors should recom­mend release for people charged with nonvi­ol­ent offenses who are at high risk of contract­ing Covid-19.

  • San Fran­cisco District Attor­ney Chesa Boudin ordered his assist­ant district attor­neys to not oppose any motions for the release of pretrial detain­ees charged with misde­mean­ors or drug-related felon­ies who do not pose a threat to public safety.
  • Baltimore’s state’s attor­ney, Marilyn Mosby, sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan urging him to free all people over the age of 60 incar­cer­ated in state pris­ons, anyone approved for parole, and all people sched­uled to complete their sentences within the next year.
  • Miami-Dade State Attor­ney Kath­er­ine Fernan­dez Rundle announced that she would begin to develop a process to release people charged with misde­mean­ors and non-viol­ent offenses. 
  • Between March 2nd and May 4th, 2020, Wiscon­sin DOC released nearly 1,600 incar­cer­ated people in response to the Covid-19 crisis.
  • Salt Lake County District Attor­ney Sim Gill in Utah is releas­ing at least 90 nonvi­ol­ent indi­vidu­als incar­cer­ated for tech­nical viol­a­tions, with further releases forth­com­ing to free 150–200 beds to fight COVID-19 by making space for possible quar­ant­in­ing.
  • A coali­tion of at least 30 prosec­ut­ing attor­neys, organ­ized by Fair and Just Prosec­u­tioncalled for their peers to release people deemed nonthreat­en­ing to soci­ety.
  • Norfolk County’s Common­wealth’s Attor­ney has been select­ing candid­ates for release from the local jail. Eligible candid­ates include those charged with nonvi­ol­ent offenses, those with less than six months to serve on their sentences, those 65 and older, those with high medical risks, and those who could be super­vised on GPS monit­or­ing.
  • On March 23, 2020, Color­ado Depart­ment of Correc­tions ordered a suspen­sion on arrests of people on parole for low level tech­nical viol­a­tions, such as fail­ure to secure employ­ment, inab­il­ity to see their parole officer in person, and resti­tu­tion require­ments. 
  • As of April 9th, 2020, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has commuted the sentences of 17 at-risk people incar­cer­ated in state pris­ons. The governor also gave “state prison author­it­ies more discre­tion in grant­ing medical furloughs to inmates with health prob­lems.” This has resul­ted in over 1,300 incar­cer­ated folks to be released from prison. 
  • On April 13th , 2020, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt announced plans to commute the sentences of 450 people incar­cer­ated in state pris­ons.
  • As of April 14th, 2020, Mult­nomah County, Oregon had decreased its adult prison popu­la­tion by 30 percent.
  • On April 15th, 2020, Dallas County, Texas, offi­cials announced the release of 1,000 incar­cer­ated people in order to reduce the trans­mis­sion of Covid-19.
  • In Pitt­s­burgh, Allegheny County District Attor­ney Stephen Zappala Jr.’s office commit­ted to not oppose the release of nonvi­ol­ent incar­cer­ated people who are at high risk of contract­ing Covid-19 in the county jail. The DA is also work­ing with public defend­ers to identify high-risk people for release.
  • The District Attor­ney for Salt Lake City, Utah has iden­ti­fied hundreds of indi­vidu­als in the Salt Lake County Jail who can be safely released, pending trial, for the dura­tion of the Covid-19 pandemic. 
  • Phil­adelphia District Attor­ney Larry Krasner has recom­men­ded almost 1,200 candid­ates for release, accord­ing to the DA’s office. 
  • Common­wealth Attor­ney Bryan Porter has been work­ing with law enforce­ment allies to drop the Alex­an­dria, Virginia jail’s popu­la­tion by 44 percent to help fight the spread of Covid-19.
  • Several Virginia Common­wealth’s Attor­neys released an open letter call­ing for the safe release of incar­cer­ated youth who they say pose no safety risk to the community. 
  • In response to Covid-19. District Attor­ney Satana Deberry of Durham, North Caro­lina is recom­mend­ing reduced sentences for people who are already incar­cer­ated. 
  • In Flor­ida, the Orange-Osceola State Attor­ney’s office confirmed that the two counties are gradu­ally releas­ing 300 indi­vidu­als from local jails in response to Covid-19. 
  • Manhat­tan DA Cy Vance’s office is work­ing with govern­ment part­ners to reduce the Rikers island popu­la­tion in response to the pandemic. So far, the office has consen­ted to the release of 315 indi­vidu­als. As of April 23, the NYC jail popu­la­tion is the lowest it’s been since 1946. 
  • The public defend­er’s office in Cook County, Illinois says it has iden­ti­fied close to 3,000 candid­ates for pretrial release, but that the office of State’s Attor­ney Kim Foxx has opposed release for 83 percent of them. An analysis by Sarah Staudt, a senior policy analyst at the Chicago Apple­seed Fund for Justice, found that state’s attor­neys have opposed release 70 to 80 percent of the time during the pandemic.
  • By June, local jails across the coun­try had largely followed three traject­or­ies. The most common pattern, occur­ring in 527 counties stud­ied by the Vera Insti­tute, was a sharp decline in jail popu­la­tions in March that remained low as the pandemic contin­ued. In 270 other counties, the jail popu­la­tion quickly declined at the begin­ning of the pandemic, but soon began increas­ing again—reach­ing pre-pandemic levels by the summer. In 454 addi­tional counties across the coun­try, jail popu­la­tions never decreased in response to the pandemic.
  • Despite Attor­ney General Barr’s instruc­tions to util­ize compas­sion­ate release, home confine­ment, and other release levers to protect elderly and at-risk popu­la­tions from Covid-19 expos­ure behind bars, federal prosec­utors in Flor­ida argued against the release of Atil­ano Domin­guez (an 80-year-old man serving a life sentence for marijuana-related convic­tions) because COVID-19 is simply “one more way to perish in prison.”
  • Accord­ing to data obtained by the Marshall Project and published in Octo­ber, 10,940 federal pris­on­ers applied for compas­sion­ate release in the first three months of the Covid-19 pandemic. Wardens approved only 156 of those peti­tions, deny­ing or ignor­ing over 98 percent of peti­tions.
  • On August 5th, 2020, Alaska courts exten­ded an order from March earlier in the year that allowed all those held in jail for misde­mean­ors (with some excep­tions) to be released on their own recog­niz­ance.
  • On Decem­ber 12, 2020, Cali­for­ni­a’s Orange County, by order of the State Supreme Court, released half its incar­cer­ated indi­vidu­als in order to main­tain social distan­cing guidelines and mitig­ate the spread of Covid-19 in the County’s pris­ons.
  • On Febru­ary 25, 2021, North Caro­lina Governor Roy Cooper announced plans to release 3,500 state pris­on­ers using discre­tion­ary sentence cred­its. The announce­ment came as a result of an NAACP lawsuit against the state regard­ing prison condi­tions amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • On April 16, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled to end an early release program put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the state’s jails and pris­ons. The court determ­ined that the state no longer needs the program because of the rate of vaccin­a­tion and health meas­ures in place in correc­tional facil­it­ies.
  • On May 1st, 2021, Cali­for­nia issued “good time” cred­its to 76,000 people incar­cer­ated in state pris­ons, allow­ing early release in an effort to further reduce the spread of Covid-19 among the state’s prison popu­la­tion.
  • On Septem­ber 7th, Honolulu Prosec­ut­ing Attor­ney Steve Alm filed a legal brief arguing against the release of people deemed low risk from carceral facil­it­ies, assert­ing that wide avail­ab­il­ity of the Covid-19 vaccine suffi­ciently addressed expos­ure risk behind bars.
  • On Septem­ber 29th, Fulton County District Attor­ney Fani Wells announced that she has preven­ted the release of 193 incar­cer­ated people, who were sched­uled to be freed in an attempt to reduce the pandemic-produced back­log of cases. This back­log comes with a 90-day rule allow­ing those being held to be released if they not indicted within a reas­on­able amount of time. 

Pretrial Services/Release

Bren­nan Center Recom­mend­a­tion: Prosec­utors should work with defense attor­neys and pretrial services to develop plans for safe pretrial super­vi­sion, consist­ent with social distan­cing oblig­a­tions, and pretrial release for as many people charged with viol­ent offenses as is feas­ible.

  • On March 17, Brook­lyn’s District Attor­ney Eric Gonza­lez announced that his office is asking defend­ers to alert the DA’s office about clients in pretrial deten­tion who are vulner­able to Covid-19. The DA’s office will also ask defend­ers to advise the DA’s office on who they should consider releas­ing outright. 
  • In March 2020, the Missouri legis­lature passed SB 995, which determ­ined that those of low and moder­ate flight risk shall be “released on unse­cured bond or own recog­niz­ance,” with those of “moder­ate flight risk” under abridged condi­tions as well. People deemed "high flight risks" are likely to continue to be denied pre-trial release alto­gether.  
  • On March 30th, 2020, the Indi­ana state legis­lature passed HB 1047, which “amends the duties of the justice rein­vest­ment advis­ory coun­cil to include the review and eval­u­ation of pretrial services and solu­tions to address jail over­crowding.” 
  • Miami-Dade’s State’s Attor­ney is work­ing “to develop a process to release misde­meanor & nonvi­ol­ent felons who are in custody but pose no threat to the public” by work­ing with the Public Defender, Miami-Dade Court Chief Judges and the Miami-Dade Correc­tions Depart­ment.
  • Respond­ing to police union demands, Governor Cuomo rolled back pretrial jail­ing reforms on June 11 – reforms that had spared thou­sands of people from being exposed to COVID-19 through the correc­tional system.
  • Kentucky released thou­sands of jail inmates await­ing trial, and Chief Justice John Minton Jr. has repor­ted that the re-arrest rate for defend­ants released by pretrial services from April 15 to May 31, 2020 was the same as the re-arrest rate from April 15 to May 31, 2019, call­ing the program a tent­at­ive success.
  • In Decem­ber, climb­ing jail popu­la­tions and increas­ing spread of Covid-19 re-invig­or­ated activ­ism push­ing for release from New York jails, partic­u­larly for people in pretrial deten­tion.
  • In Janu­ary, New Jersey prosec­utors publicly opposed a plan that would release hundreds of people held in the state’s jails pretrial, arguing that increased risks of Covid-19 expos­ure and inab­il­ity to socially distance are not valid reas­ons to continue to release indi­vidu­als from custody.

Court Appear­ances

Bren­nan Center Recom­mend­a­tion: Prosec­utors should work with defense attor­neys and the courts to delay court appear­ances, if possible, and to set up a system for conduct­ing tele­phonic status confer­ences rather than requir­ing in-person appear­ances.

  • In King County, Wash­ing­ton, where civil and crim­inal trials have been delayed for at least a month, Super­ior Court Presid­ing Judge Jim Rogers announced that his court is creat­ing a new video system that allows out-of-custody people to down­load an app to appear in court virtu­ally for any emer­gency hear­ings, such as for domestic viol­ence or sexual abuse protect­ive orders. 
  • The Louisi­ana State Supreme Court has exten­ded the delay for all civil and crim­inal trials in the state until at least May 4.
  • The Indi­ana State Supreme Court has exten­ded the suspen­sion of jury trials in crim­inal and civil cases until after May 4.
  • In Hawaii most crim­inal and civil court cases have been put on hold until at least April 30th “in the interest of the safety and health of the public and of court employ­ees.”
  • In Douglas County, Kansas all crim­inal and civil cases are post­poned until further order of the cases assigned divi­sion judge.
  • District Attor­ney Krasner’s office proposed that Phil­adelphia city courts estab­lish a Zoom court where hear­ings could be held virtu­ally. 
  • To fight Covid-19 infec­tions, Milwau­kee County DA John Chisholm, with the local court’s cooper­a­tion, has moved all court hear­ings online to Zoom.
  • The New Mexico Supreme Court has exten­ded the suspen­sion of all new civil and crim­inal jury trials until May 29, with judges limit­ing in-person proceed­ings in emer­gen­cies and conduct­ing non-jury civil and crim­inal proceed­ings through audio or video tele­con­fer­en­cing.
  • In Wichita, Kansas, court­houses are exper­i­en­cing a huge back­log of court cases, as jury trials have been put on hold during the pandemic. In response, the county is setting up processing stations outside of the court­house start­ing June 15.
  • Polk County, Flor­ida has unveiled a suite of virtual courtrooms that allows crim­inal defend­ants to parti­cip­ate in hear­ings without being present at the court­house, with port­able finger­print stations and temper­at­ure check­points insti­tuted for judges and other courtroom person­nel.
  • The Michigan Supreme Court has created a Virtual Courtroom direct­ory, which provides organ­ized access to the virtual Zoom hear­ings through­out the state. More than 100,000 hours of hear­ings have been conduc­ted remotely, and all are access­ible to the public.
  • The state of Flor­ida is resum­ing in-person court proceed­ings during the month of July. Courts expect to be flooded with a back­log of cases, so those that involve people currently incar­cer­ated will be prior­it­ized. Social distan­cing will be enforced, but public health restric­tions combined with budget cuts will slow courts down consid­er­ably.
  • On June 12, 2020, the Wyom­ing Supreme Court exten­ded their order to suspend court appear­ances until at least August 3rd, 2020 unless the case met certain emer­gency excep­tion require­ments.
  • A San Mateo County, CA prosec­utor appeared in court while COVID-19 posit­ive. Although the prosec­utor has been in quar­ant­ine since test­ing posit­ive on June 16, the District Attor­ney failed to inform anyone in the court­house who came into contact with the infec­ted prosec­utor, apart from his own staff, for five days.
  • Shortly after in-person court appear­ances resumed in Allegheny County, PA, half a dozen posit­ive COVID cases were confirmed among court system employ­ees. The court admin­is­tra­tion says that the affected people have been quar­ant­ined, and plan to continue hear­ings in person.
  • On June 29, the Texas Supreme Court issued an emer­gency order further delay­ing jury trials, this time until Septem­ber 1. Trial judges may request jury trials, but a social distan­cing plan must be approved before such exper­i­mental trials can be held.
  • Allegheny County resumed its in-person court proceed­ings at the end of June. As of July 7, one of their assist­ant district attor­neys has contrac­ted and is in crit­ical condi­tion with COVID-19. He believes he was exposed to the virus June 30, while at the court­house. In response, Pres­id­ent Judge Kim Clark has further restric­ted in-person hear­ings.
  • In the Los Angeles County Court­house, in-person hear­ings have contin­ued during the pandemic, despite almost 500 posit­ive coronavirus cases among staff and at least three deaths. The court­house charges a fee for remote hear­ings, unless a defend­ant receives a special waiver. In Janu­ary, it was revealed that several deputy district attor­neys, along with a few public defend­ers, were given early access to Covid-19 vaccines despite their lack of eligib­il­ity under the county’s admin­is­tra­tion plan.
  • On April 7, the King County Super­ior Court’s presid­ing judge, Jim Rogers, proposed that Wash­ing­ton county should tempor­ar­ily expand its trial courts by employ­ing retired judges, new public defend­ers, new prosec­utors and victim advoc­ates. The county has been conduct­ing civil proceed­ings virtu­ally and crim­inal trials in person but still has a back­log of over 7,000 cases.
  • On April 11, Arkan­sas announced plans to resume state trials in May 2021. In order to follow public health guidelines, offi­cials are plan­ning to space people out in court rooms and consid­er­ing altern­at­ive loca­tions that may better allow for distan­cing.
  • On May 3, in-person trials resumed in Dallas County, Texas after being on hold for over a year due to the pandemic. County offi­cials report that the county retro­fit­ted court rooms with plexi­glass and micro­phones to enable trials to occur with Covid-19 precau­tions in place.
  • On Septem­ber 16th, Judge Richard Ander­son ordered that in-person court appear­ances for those incar­cer­ated by Shawnee County, Kansas, will be suspen­ded until Octo­ber, due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the Shawnee County Jail. 
  • On Septem­ber 22nd, San Fran­cisco Public Defender Mano Raju filed suit on behalf of roughly 400 people who have been denied their right to a speedy trial due to Covid-19 restric­tions. The juris­dic­tion’s back­log of cases has left many people incar­cer­ated longer than usual, which the suit claims viol­ates their right to a speedy trial. State law requires a trial within 60 days.
  • On Octo­ber 6, 22nd Judi­cial District Chief Judge Doug Walker of Color­ado ordered that all court appear­ances must be virtual due to a surge in Coivd-19 cases in Monte­zuma and Dolores Counties.
  • As of Octo­ber 11, the Eighth Judi­cial District Court in Las Vegas, Nevada repor­ted a back­log of roughly 2,500 cases. The court has created crim­inal and civil confer­ence programs where sitting judges, in their free time, try to settle cases to lower the number of cases await­ing trial. The court has also begun rely­ing upon virtual appear­ances to improve effi­ciency.
  • On Octo­ber 21, the Orleans County Super­ior crim­inal court in Newport, Virginia, began schedul­ing jury trials again in the Lamoille and Cale­do­nia County court­houses start­ing Novem­ber 8, after paus­ing in-person proceed­ings because of the pandemic.

Filing Dead­lines

Bren­nan Center Recom­mend­a­tion: Prosec­utors should consider agree­ing to waive filing dead­lines for appeals and post-convic­tion motions to the extent possible.

  • The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Caro­lina, Cheri Beas­ley, ordered an April 17 exten­sion for all plead­ings, motions, notices, and other docu­ments and papers. In Mecklen­burg County, North Caro­lina, District Attor­ney Spen­cer Merri­weather III post­poned all noncrit­ical crim­inal court proceed­ings, presum­ably includ­ing appeals and post-convic­tion filing dead­lines.

  • Geor­gia lifted its two-month suspen­sion on filing dead­lines on May 21, citing the fact that most of the filing dead­lines that were suspen­ded pertained to elec­tronic filings, rather than court proceed­ings requir­ing in-person contact. The new orders do not revoke dead­line exten­sions for filing new proceed­ings.

  • Cali­for­nia tolled the stat­ute of limit­a­tions for civil actions from April 6, until 90 days after Gov. Newsom declares the COVID-19 state of emer­gency is lifted. Many states have followed suit, exclud­ing states like Illinois and Flor­ida, whose courts issued emer­gency orders that did not extend stat­utes of limit­a­tions.

  • Geor­gi­a’s state court has exten­ded the state of judi­cial emer­gency for a fourth time, and the order has rein­stated filing dead­lines for civil and crim­inal cases, while also instruct­ing judges to avoid summon­ing trial juries for such cases.
  • The Supreme Judi­cial Court of Massachu­setts has set new filing dead­lines for appeal briefs delayed by the court’s tolling of dead­lines in May, but has yet to set dead­lines for briefs and appen­dices due on or after June 1, 2020.
  • On May 27th, 2020, Kansas Supreme Court ordered the indef­in­ite suspen­sion of all stat­utes of limit­a­tions and stat­utory time stand­ards or dead­lines apply­ing to the conduct or processing of judi­cial proceed­ings.” (The order was reversed on April 15th, 2021).
  • Louisi­ana Supreme Court on June 5th, 2020 announced a filing exten­sion through June 16th, 2020.
  • As part of its June 12 order, the Wyom­ing Supreme Court also stip­u­lated that “Orders of protec­tion and tempor­ary injunc­tions” that would expire between March 18th and May 31st were exten­ded until August 3rd.
  • On August 31st, 2020, Virginia Supreme Court extends evic­tion morator­ium through Septem­ber 7th, 2020.
  • In response to the county’s extens­ive case back­log, the Harris County commis­sion­ers approved a tempor­ary staff­ing increase for the district attor­ney’s office through July 31, 2021.

Adjourn Senten­cing/Report Dates

Bren­nan Center Recom­mend­a­tion: Prosec­utors should work with defense attor­neys and the courts to adjourn all senten­cings for indi­vidu­als who are on pretrial release.

  • The Cook County State’s Attor­ney Office, in collab­or­a­tion with the Circuit Court of Cook County, post­poned all trials and many hear­ings for a 30-day period begin­ning March 17. Bail hear­ings, arraign­ments, and prelim­in­ary hear­ings are the only named hear­ings to proceed during this period.

Bren­nan Center Recom­mend­a­tion: Prosec­utors should work with defense attor­neys, the courts, and their local depart­ments of correc­tions to adjourn dates to report to prison.

  • The Crim­inal District Courts of Travis County, Texas, ordered the Travis County Sher­iff’s Office to notify all law enforce­ment officers to not bring any low-level offend­ers to the jail until May 8th.