The COVID-19 pandemic has upended many of the economic and governing systems in place in the United States. While some government programs such as welfare and unemployment have expanded immensely, other systems have become increasingly restricted, especially those that depend on in-person meetings to function. In March 2020, the judiciary across the country came to a standstill and struggled to concoct a path forward in a system that demands face-to-face interaction. The court had to adapt quickly to their new normal which allowed for COVID-19 safety precautions while also carrying out its constitutional duty to deliver justice as it had for more than 200 years. If you’re due to attend an in-person hearing, this is what you should know.
Personal Protective Equipment in the Court
Like businesses around the country, the courts have implemented the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce the chance of transmission of COVID-19. Plexiglass partitions along the judge’s bench, attorney’s tables, and bailiff’s station are the most notable changes. Most courts also require masks or face shields for attorneys, judges, jurors, and other people attending a hearing.
If you are a juror for a trial, you may notice the cramped quarters of the juror’s box are no more. Courts have begun seating jurors six feet apart along the back walls to allow for social distancing. Depending on the court, witnesses to trials may also have a vastly different experience than they may expect. Gone are the days of TV-style space-invading questionings. Witness stands are separated from the attorney and judge by plexiglass most often. Occasionally, courts will stream witness testimonies from other rooms to allow the witness to remove their mask safely while offering testimony.
COVID-19 Court Procedure
Court trials will progress in much the same way as usual. Attorneys will still give their opening and closing statements. Witnesses will still be called to the stand. Jurors will still listen with impartiality. There are a few moments of close contact during a court trial, however, that must be adapted to align with safety recommendations for COVID-19.
For example, attorneys and clients still must retain their constitutional right to confer privately during a trial. How can one do this when whispering into their ear at the same table is a health concern? In a clever workaround, some courts have requested attorneys and clients wear headphones which will allow them to whisper discreetly without being within six feet of each other.
Despite the backlog of jury trials awaiting hearing dates due to the court shutdown early in 2020, many courts are still slowly moving forward with jury selection and hearing scheduling. However, if you are currently awaiting your own jury hearing, you may have to wait a little longer yet. Jurors are (rightfully) nervous about fulfilling their civil responsibility during a pandemic which makes filling a jury challenging. Some courts, like the District of Colorado, have suspended jury trials altogether while the country undergoes a massive increase in COVID-19 cases.
Before Entering a Court During COVID-19
Courts are taking the pandemic seriously, so there are some things you’ll need to prepare for when you arrive to a courthouse.
- You need to wear a mask. This should be second nature by this point given the practice is widespread. The mask should be covering your nose, mouth, and chin to best reduce your chances of transmitting COVID-19. Additional face shields are optional.
- You need to stay home if you’re feeling ill. During this time, courts are understanding of the risk that sickness can pose. If you are feeling sick before your hearing, you can quickly and virtually reach out to your attorney. They will work with you and the opposing counsel to extend deadlines and move court dates.
- Security will screen you before entering a courthouse. As you step into a courthouse, you’ll see the familiar metal detector and conveyor belt. However, you’ll also notice someone standing at the ready with what looks like a radar gun. This is a contactless thermometer and will be used to check your temperature before you are allowed into the building. The attendant will ask you if you’ve experienced any COVID-19 symptoms prior to arriving. Be honest.
- You must social distance. Wearing a mask in close quarters is not enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend maintaining six feet of space between you and another person. This also extends to your attorney.
Justice Doesn’t Rest in the Inland Empire
While many attorneys have chosen to postpone their in-person hearings, the team at McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP, is still hard at work to support you during your time of legal need. We have taken the COVID-19 pandemic incredibly seriously since day one but also understand that, in some cases, justice cannot wait. We are proud to have a continued track record of success while abiding by strict but necessary COVID-19 measures both in our offices and in the court. If you find yourself at a legal standstill due to COVID-19 but need your personal injury, commercial litigation, product liability, or class action case to progress, contact us today or call (909) 345-8110 for your free consultation.