The 2,500-member Criminal Law Section is lending its voice to a growing chorus calling for greater use of remote court proceedings as the deadly COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge.
In an August 4 letter to Chief Justice Charles Canady and the chief judges of all 20 circuits, CLS Chair Jason Blank urges the greater use of remote proceedings for “non-essential criminal court hearings.”
“The benefits of remotely holding non-essential hearings (namely those where there is not a constitutional and due process requirement for an individual to appear in person) generally outweighs the benefits of in-person appearances on these matters,” Blank wrote.
The letter stresses that with a membership made up of federal and state judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and legal scholars, the section “is a uniquely situated cross-section” of the criminal court system. Blank said the section “recognizes that every jurisdiction is different and handles their caseloads differently,” but has concluded that holding non-essential hearings remotely is for the greater good.
“Whether making court hearings more efficient, minimizing the need to transport dozens or hundreds of incarcerated individuals in and out of courtrooms daily creating possible exposure for numerous people to infection, or avoiding litigants missing work or being forced to find childcare so they can appear in-person, the common-sense reasons to return to regularly held remote hearings are readily apparent,” Blank wrote.
The letter was posted a day after Florida broke a pandemic record with 11,500 hospitalizations, and nearly a week after the daily case count rose to 22,000, also a new height.
Last week, Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers President Jude Faccidomo issued a similar plea.
“We 100% agree that there are functions of the court that need to be in person — your evidentiary hearings, your trials, your probation violation hearings,” Faccidomo said in an interview. But the “day to day, the status conferences, the discovery motions, those can be handled quickly and efficiently in a remote proceeding and limit the personnel in the courthouse, thereby protecting the safety of everyone.”
The FACDL statement came a few days after the Supreme Court issued a statement assuring that justices are closely watching the latest developments.
“Chief Justice Charles Canady and leadership of the State Courts System continue to monitor health conditions throughout the state and remain alert to guidance provided by state and federal health agencies, including updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations issued July 27,” the statement said.
The announcement pointed to Justice Canady’s June 4 administrative order encouraging the use of remote proceedings when appropriate.
The order states that “each chief judge of a judicial circuit should take all necessary steps to support the remote conduct of other trial court proceedings with the use of technology in accordance with this administrative order and other applicable standards and guidance as may be adopted by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”