As we see schools and restaurants close, public events cancelled, and toilet paper aisles stripped bare, defendants, defense attorneys and prosecutors are all wondering how the COVID-19 / coronavirus pandemic will impact court proceedings. On March 16th, the Arizona Supreme Court issued Administrative Order number 2020-47. This order issued a number of directives to all of the State’s courts, including:
- All in-person proceedings in all courts are to be minimized to the greatest extent possible.
- Courts should use technology to limit in-person courtroom contact.
- Courts should observe CDC social distancing guidelines. Courts should not schedule simultaneous court proceedings that would cause so many people to be present in the courtroom that the guidelines cannot be followed.
- Courts should liberally grand continuations and other accommodations to those who are at high risk of illness from coronavirus.
- Through March 31st, courts may also suspend any rules that impedes a court’s ability to use technology to avoid in-person contact.
How are courts responding to Administrative Order number 2020-47?
Most courts are being very compliant with the order. Desert Ridge Justice Court, for example, is liberally allowing telephonic appearances to minimize in-person courtroom conduct. Mesa Municipal Court, for example, is spontaneously continuing court dates out several months to minimize in-person contact now.
Other courts were a little slower to comply with the order. One local justice court was still requiring in-person appearances for a generic pretrial conference several days after the order was issued. Now however, it appears most courts are on board with following the order. Here is a page published by the Maricopa County Justice Courts with a link to individual court policies.
What action can you take in your case to protect yourself?
It seems like everyone, except a few outlier court administrators, does not want to be out in public right now. If you have a pending court case, you may want to consider some of the following options:
- File a motion with the court asking that you be allowed to appear for your court date by telephone.
- File a motion to continue, asking that your court date be continued for 30 or 60 days.
- The coronavirus may even help resolve your case. A prosecutor may be more inclined to enter into a reasonable plea agreement and resolve the case as a way to reduce in-person court appearances.