How Will the Corona Virus Affect My Criminal Case?

            COVID-19 continues to have worldwide impact on everyday life. The new normal is unlike anything anyone in our lifetime has experienced. Terms of “Shelter in Place” and “Stay at Home Orders” are on every news station and radio broadcast. You may be wondering legally what it all means – and how it will affect your criminal case in Georgia.

            If you have a criminal case pending, your case is likely being impacted. On March 14, 2020, Chief Supreme Court Justice Harold D. Melton issued an order declaring a statewide Judicial Emergency.  (YOU CAN LINK THE ORDER HERE:  The current order is in effect for 30 days, or until April 13, 2020 at 11:59pm, unless it is further extended. In that order, Justice Melton suspended all judicial operations for non-essential functions. This means that regular calendar calls, jury trials, status hearings, and plea dates will not be occurring as scheduled. No grand jurors or trial jurors will be empaneled to try a criminal case during this time. 

            Courts will remain open to address issues that are “necessary to protect health, safety and liberty of individuals.” Hearings involving motion for bond are still occurring. This means that if you or a loved one is arrested during the judicial emergency, a first appearance and bond hearing will still occur. More and more jurisdictions are allowing these hearings to take place via video conferencing. In fact, Justice Melton, through the order, encouraged Courts to handle court functions via videoconferencing when possible in order to continue the essential business of the Court while protecting citizens, judges, and lawyers from exposure to the coronavirus.

            Temporary protective orders (TPOs), commonly known as restraining orders will also continue to be addressed as normal given that these hearings are deemed necessary to protect safety of individuals in that they involve domestic violence. Juvenile detention hearings, as well as mental commitment hearings, will continue to operate normally pursuant to the judicial emergency order. Hearings for the applications for criminal search warrants and arrest warrants will also continue to occur normally which means that law enforcement are still investigating and arresting individuals accused of crimes.

            Other ways that your criminal case will be affected are that many deadlines commonly practiced in criminal cases are suspended. For example, the statute of limitations for the State of Georgia to bring formal charges against you is tolled. Typically, the State is required to file formal accusation or indictment within two years of arrest for misdemeanors, and four years of arrest for most felonies. Due to the judicial emergency it is possible that the State will bring charges after the typical statute of limitation has run.

            Additionally, if someone with a current criminal case has a pending speedy trial demand filed, the deadline at which the State must try the case will also be suspended pursuant to the Judicial Emergency Order. Typically, when a speedy trial demand is filed, the case must be tried by the following term of court. This deadline has been suspended in Georgia and thus speedy trials will take longer to occur than normally.

            Once the coronavirus is contained and courts re-opened, you will receive your next court date, and your case should proceed through the justice system at that point, albeit with certain delays. For now, in order to protect individuals and those who work in the justice system, business is not as usual. However, we at the Law Office of W. Scott Smith continue to work around the clock on behalf of their clients and are prepared to hit the ground running where our cases were left off and will work tirelessly to assist in the release of people in custody. If you or a loved one has any questions about their criminal cause during the coronavirus, call us today for a FREE CONSULTATION at 404-581-0999.