With the rapid spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, people worldwide are dealing with a public health emergency the likes of which has not been seen in our lifetimes. The state of New Jersey, due to our proximity to the outbreak center in New York City, has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. State and local officials are mandating that everyone stay inside to the greatest extent possible and are closing down all non-essential businesses. This social distancing has even extended to the court system, which has largely suspended in-person hearings. However, this does not mean that you cannot get into trouble with the law while the pandemic is ongoing. Below, our Atlantic City criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych explain what is happening with the criminal justice system and what you should do if you are arrested during this public health crisis.
Is the New Jersey Court System Operating During Coronavirus?
In mid-March, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued an order suspending most in-person court proceedings while the state’s stay-at-home order to combat the pandemic is in effect. Both New Jersey municipal courts and superior courts handling criminal cases are postponing pending proceedings, with few exceptions. For the most part, only matters relating to emergent public safety matters and detention hearings for incarcerated individuals are going forward, and even those are not happening in as timely a fashion as usual.
If you are currently dealing with a criminal case and you had a court hearing scheduled sometime in the coming weeks, you should receive notice that the matter is being rescheduled or postponed indefinitely. If you have not received such a notice, you should contact your attorney right away. If you do not already have an attorney, you should get one immediately. Your attorney can contact the court clerk and the prosecutor’s office to see if the matter has been postponed and find out what further steps you need to take at this time, if any.
Some hearings on motions and other pre-trial matters may continue to be conducted remotely via videoconferencing. Furthermore, your attorney can try to continue to negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutor assigned to your case. Prosecutors may be looking to get cases off their desks during this time when they are dealing with other, more urgent public safety matters. Depending on the judge and the court, you may be able to enter a plea remotely and have the case settled. If you plan to take the case to trial, however, note that all jury trials have been suspended.
Can I Be Arrested in New Jersey During Coronavirus?
The short answer to this question is that yes, the police are absolutely continuing to arrest people accused of crimes during the coronavirus pandemic. Just because the courts are not holding in-person hearings does not mean that the justice system has come to a complete halt. Police are still working every day, continuing ongoing investigations, applying for arrest warrants, and making new arrests. In fact, police are patrolling far more than usual in order to protect public safety during this time of great uncertainty. If you commit a crime, you will be arrested.
Furthermore, under the governor’s executive order mandating that everyone stay at home except for essential reasons, you can be charged with a disorderly persons offense for holding a large gathering or keeping your business open when it has been deemed non-essential during coronavirus. If you have children at the gathering, you can also be charged with child endangerment. New Jersey is taking the enforcement of this order very seriously and many people have already been charged and could face severe fines or even jail time. If you have been charged with a crime under the executive order, call one of our skilled criminal defense attorneys in Cape May County at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych right away.
Bail Hearings and Detention in New Jersey During Coronavirus
After you are arrested, you will be taken for the local police station for booking. Contacting a lawyer as soon as possible after you have been arrested during coronavirus is especially crucial right now because we can work to convince the officers to release you with a citation or a summons rather than hold you until a bail hearing can take place. A bail hearing to determine if you can be released while the underlying matter is resolved typically takes place before a judge within 24 hours of your arrest, and no more than 72 hours after your arrest. However, there are serious delays right now due to the pandemic and the fact that most of these hearings are happening via videoconference. As such, you could end up spending more time in jail than usual.
While it is never a pleasant experience being in jail, right now during the coronavirus pandemic it is even more dangerous as jails are not known for being clean, and are often overcrowded so that social distancing is impracticable if not impossible. Even if you are only in a police station’s holding cell rather than the county jail, you will be around many people, including officers, who have been out and about all day with a high chance of having been exposed to the virus. An experienced bail hearing attorney like those at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych can work our contacts at the station, the court, and the prosecutor’s office to try to get you before a judge as soon as possible. We will make every effort to convince the judge that you should be released while the case plays out, especially during this troubling time.
If You Have Been Arrested, Call Our New Jersey Defense Lawyers Today
Right now, social distancing is the best tool we have to fight the spread of this novel virus. The more people you around, the greater your chance is of catching it. If you are arrested, you will be around police officers and jail inmates, populations with great risks of exposure. You need an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney like those on the team at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych to fight to get you out of custody and back home to safety as soon as possible. For a free, confidential consultation, call our office today at (609) 616-4956.