COVID-19 has caused justice to be delayed not only in Michigan but across the United States. The movement of cases has come to almost a screeching halt. Public trials cannot be had, many defendants are forced to remain incarcerated while their constitutional rights to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment are being violated and they’re forced to live in a jail where social distancing isn’t possible and the risk of contracting COVID-19 is increased. For many victims obtaining closure and justice is delayed. Michigan has had excellent leadership from in Supreme Court in implementing measures which allow the courts to proceed by video for certain hearings. But this just isn’t practical or possible for all court hearings. It is not practical or safe for jury trials to be had during this pandemic, and across the nation most grand juries aren’t being convened thus, no indictments and where there have been grand juries seated chief judges have required social distancing. “We are not in a position right now to call citizens in for jury duty in big groups. It’s not responsible,” Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack.
Although technology has been able to be utilized like never before there are many jurisdictions that just don’t have the proper technology to proceed with hearings via video or teleconferencing. Defense attorneys are unable to meet with their clients in person and of their clients who are incarcerated, defense attorneys are limited in their communications with their clients because some can only communicate with them by phone and jail phone calls are most always recorded.
For a criminal justice system that already had thousands of cases pending there is surely a backlog that will affect the timing of already pending as well as future cases. Constitutional dilemmas are being seen nationwide. Prosecutors may need to look at foregoing charging or proceeding with low level offenses to ease the case load in the system. ABA Criminal Justice Section Chair Kim Parker notes most states have statutory speedy trial limits and says the impact of the virus is going to overwhelm dockets in courthouses all over the country. She warns the impact of the disease could lead to delays and an expanding backlog of cases. “It’s not as if anything’s going away. It just keeps backing up, backing up, backing up, and the days aren’t long enough,” Parker says.
Civil cases have in large part come to standstill too. One of the biggest impacts on civil cases is that courts have prohibited in person appearances. Some courts have also extended or adjourned discovery deadlines, motions and trials. Depositions will have to be via videoconferencing for likely the foreseeable future. As of April 20, 2020 the CDC reports 802,503 cases of COVID-19 with 44,575 deaths in the U.S. and it’s territories. The nation and the world are facing a pandemic and systems have had to adapt. COVID-19 has had a huge impact on our judicial system and its effects are likely to be seen for some time.
Ayanna D. Neal joined Grewal Law PLLC as an attorney after dedicating fifteen years to representing the people of the state of Michigan in prosecution for Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office. Ayanna began practicing law two years prior to working as a prosecutor and handled child custody, contracts, and estate planning cases. Born and raised in Lansing, Michigan, Ayanna holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Michigan and Juris Doctor with a concentration in Business Transactions from Thomas M. Cooley Law School.