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The Countless Ways COVID-19 Will Impact Florida’s Criminal Justice System & Defendants’ Rights

By Hager & Schwartz, P.A.

May 1, 2020

There is no denying that COVID-19 and its closures have impacted the world in countless ways. Florida state attorneys calling for the early release of inmates, prisons across the state not accepting new inmates, and many criminal charges being severely reduced as there is no grand jury to charge felonies are a few of the things the state has implemented to help “flatten the curve”.

While some individuals with pending criminal charges have benefited greatly from the COVID-19 closures, there are many more who have had their civil rights negatively affected. Some of the most common ways include:

  • The rights given in the Speedy Trial Act have been suspended due to the court closures. This means that if you’ve been charged with a crime, you are no longer entitled to a speedy trial. Meaning that you will have to wait until the court is ready to exercise your right to a speedy trial.
  • Many district courts have had all court appearances adjourned. What does that mean? It means that if you’re set to be released, you could expect to face a significant delay.
  • The overall medical care in Florida’s prisons and jails are suspected to be extremely poor in regards to stopping the spread of the virus. There are countless inmates who are suspected of being at risk or who have underlying health conditions that are still being held in Florida jails and prisons.
  • The Federal Bureau of Prisons restricted in-person visits for all inmates and their attorneys. While this restriction is in place to, again, stop the spread of the virus, it denies the inmates their Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel.

The Federal Department of Justice Asks to Suspend Constitutional Rights

As the nation continues to search for new ways to prevent the virus from spreading, the Department of Justice (DOJ) recently issued a request from Congress that would allow them to have a handful of new “emergency powers”. The most concerning request they asked for is the ability to detain defendants indefinitely without trial.

The DOJ suggested that the US attorney general should have the ability to ask the chief judge within any district court to halt all court proceedings whenever the court has been closed fully or partially.

Additionally, the request asked for the statute of limitations for criminal investigations to be placed on hold for an entire year following the conclusion of the national emergency. They also stated that the defendant must appear to a video conference instead of an in-person hearing, all of this without the defendant’s consent.

What the Statute of Limitations Update Means for Defendants

While the House of Representatives is pushing back on this request, there is no question in our minds that defendants can expect a number of malicious tactics to be used by the government including:

  • Using Tolling Agreements to have limitations periods extended. This is very common in cases where an investigation is already taking place.
  • Using the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act – This act allows for the statute of limitations to be extended in cases that involve attempts at defrauding the U.S.
  • Using Executive Orders to suspend all time limits for filing or commencing any legal action through a specified date set in the future.

Work with a Trusted Florida Criminal Defense Team Today

COVID-19 has changed and will continue to change our nation in countless ways. As the world around us changes, our dedication at Hager & Schwartz remains the same. For countless years our team has remained dedicated to seeing our clients return to their best lives possible.

We understand that dealing with pending criminal charges alone can be extremely stressful, and with the added stress of COVID-19 and its closures, you could be feeling hopeless. If so, our team is here to help.

Call us today (386) 693-1637 to learn more about how our team can help protect your future over the phone.