How is the COVID-19 Health Emergency Impacting the Judicial System?
The COVID-19 (“COVID”) pandemic has the entire country in a state of emergency. Just yesterday, Governor Holcomb formally ordered Indiana schools closed for the remainder of the year. Businesses and restaurants are either closed or operating under significant restraints. Even “essential businesses” that are permitted to remain open must do so subject to the social distancing guidelines prescribed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unfortunately, COVID is significantly impacting the judicial system as well.
On March 16, 2020, the Indiana Supreme Court issued an Order directing trial courts to prepare emergency local plans to protect against COVID’s onslaught. Specifically, the Court recommended petitioning for the following relief:
1. Tolling for a limited time all laws, rules, and procedures setting time limits for speedy trials in criminal and juvenile proceedings, public health, mental health, and appellate matters; all judgments, support, and other orders; and in all other civil and criminal matters before all State of Indiana trial courts.
2. Suspending and/or rescheduling criminal and civil jury trials for a limited time (subject in criminal cases to the Constitutional right to speedy trial and Constitutional protection against double jeopardy).
3. Suspending new juror orientations, extending existing jury panels, and/or postponing jury service to a later date for jurors who are ill, caring for someone who is ill, or in a high-risk category.
4. Continuing and/or rescheduling non-essential hearings (excluding emergency matters, domestic violence hearings, and evidentiary hearings in criminal cases).
5. Using telephonic or video technology in lieu of in-person appearances, unless a litigant’s due process rights would be violated.
6. Flexibility allowing the county’s judges to exercise general jurisdiction over cases in each other’s courts.
7. Issuing summonses in lieu of bench warrants or notices of failure to appear.
8. Considering (a) the existence of flu or flu-like symptoms in any attorney, selfrepresented litigant, or witness expected to testify; (b) exposure of such individuals to anyone who has or may have COVID-19; or (c) status of such individuals in a highrisk category; to constitute “good cause” to either appear remotely or continue a court setting, to the extent possible without violating statutory or constitutional rights.
9. Allowing any attorney wishing to appear remotely (e.g., through teleconference systems, etc.) for any status conference or non-evidentiary hearing without further leave of court upon filing a “Notice of Remote Appearance” in the court in which the matter will be heard.
10. Subject to applicable Constitutional limitations, limiting spectators (other than parties to the litigation and their attorneys) in courtrooms to the extent necessary to provide adequate social distancing.
11. For trial court clerks, making drop boxes available, for conventionally filed documents.
12. Posting signage at all public entry points to judicial facilities advising individuals not to enter the building if they have:
a. Visited China, Iran, South Korea, any European countries, or any other high-risk countries identified by the CDC in the previous 14 days;
b. Resided with or been in close contact with someone who has been in any of those countries within the previous 14 days;
c. Traveled domestically within the United States where COVID-19 has sustained widespread community transmission;
d. Been asked to self-quarantine by any doctor, hospital, or health agency;
e. Been diagnosed with or had contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19; or
f. A fever, cough or shortness of breath; and directing bailiffs or court security officers to deny entrance to individuals attempting to enter in violation of these protocols.
13. Allowing individuals with legitimate court business to stay home and request a continuance by phone to the county Clerk if they are ill, caring for someone who is ill, or in a high-risk category.
14. Providing sanitation materials (such as hand sanitizer or bleach wipes) at all courtroom entrances and counsel tables.
Indiana trial courts thus requested and were granted that relief from the Supreme Court, and have gone on to implement local emergency action plans. The complete list of Counties and their respective Petitions may be viewed here. The result of the emergency action plans has been severely limited access to the courts, continuance of most hearings, telephonic appearances for hearings that are required, and general disruption to the typical processes and procedures that courts follow. USA Today also recently weighed in and highlighted some of these issues facing the judicial system and the real-life decisions that Hoosier practitioners are being forced to make under these difficult circumstances.
So, what does all of this mean for the people that the judicial system serves? Generally, it means that we should expect (potentially significant) delays in most cases, even criminal cases, as we work our way through these uncertain times. Please be patient if your case or a loved one’s case is impacted by this ongoing COVID health emergency. Your hearing dates may be moved without request, and it may take longer than anticipated to get the judicial relief you seek.
If you need help with your case, or have questions about what to expect from the courts in light of the COVID health emergency, please contact us at any time via email at email@example.com or by phone at (812) 539-2111. Above all else—stay home, stay safe, and take care of one another.
Disclaimer: this post is made for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice. The information provided herein is subject to change on a daily basis. Pillar Law Group LLP will strive to provide updates as they come, but please contact an attorney with questions regarding specific cases or for the most recent information available. Thank you.