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Criminal Defendants in Limbo as Rights to Speedy Trial Affected by Pandemic


Criminal defendants have been left in limbo as they wait for stalled cases to continue to move forward while jury trials have been put on hold due to the pandemic. This means that, on any given day, more than 630,000 people are being held in jails, of which approximately 75 percent have not yet been convicted, and many are simply there because they cannot afford to post bail: According to the Department of Justice, the median bail in state courts for felony defendants is $15,000, meaning that even a percentage of the cost is a prohibitive price for most.

Defendants have a right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment, although states have been left to define the parameters for that length of time. For example, in Florida, defendants have the right to stand trial for Felony charges within 175 days of arrest and within 90 days for misdemeanor charges. However, the Florida Supreme Court has now suspended these rules. Courtroom activities are currently limited to those considered to be essential and critical, such as first appearance or bail hearings, and as result, scores of court cases – including high profile criminal trials – will be delayed, as Florida has made adjustments to defendants’ rights to a speedy trial due to closures and thousands of backlogged criminal cases.

Could Criminal Trials Ever Be Held Remotely, Or Would This Be Inherently Unconstitutional?

Without a specific deadline, thousands could be forced to live in jail indefinitely until the courts can open. Although most of Florida began phase one of its three phase re-opening on May 4, and on May 22, Florida’s top judge ordered civil cases to be tried remotely, he also announced that criminal jury trials would still be on hold due to the “complex constitutional and due process issues” involved. In other words, it is unclear whether there is a constitutional way to hold jury trials remotely, given that jurors must be physically monitored for conflicts. In addition, the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause provides a qualified guarantee that, in all criminal prosecutions, the accused has the right to be confronted with witnesses against them (although note that the US Supreme Court has held this is not an absolute right and witnesses can appear remotely in specific, narrow circumstances). Still, it is concerning that some studies suggest that remote criminal appearances can have a dehumanizing effect on defendants and thus lead to harsher rulings from juries.

Will The Pandemic Make It Inevitable? Some States Practice With Hearings

However, at the same time, some courts In other parts of the country appear to be more open to the idea. For example, in March, a New York court allowed one juror who was sick to continue to deliberate via video, and several other states are currently testing simulated criminal juries and remote grand juries.  In addition, federal courts and a number of states are allowing criminal hearings to take place remotely with the defendant’s agreement.

If You Are Facing Criminal Charges or Have Civil Rights Concerns in Florida, Contact The Baez Law Firm

Our Orlando criminal attorneys at the Baez Law Firm are some of the greatest trial attorneys in the country. Contact our office today for a free consultation to find out how we can help.



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