The coronavirus pandemic has brought about times of great uncertainty throughout our country and right here in Atlantic County. Our home state of New Jersey has been one of the hardest hit states in the union and our government has taken unprecedented steps to keep people safe from this very contagious disease. The governor has issued an executive order mandating that all people stay at home as much as possible to slow the spread. Only essential workers and people conducting essential business such as shopping for groceries or going to the pharmacy are permitted to be out and about, and all non-essential businesses are required to be closed.
This has left many wondering if they still must attend in-person criminal court proceedings during this time. Below, our experienced Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych explain what you should do if you have a criminal case underway or if you are arrested for new charges in Atlantic County during this time.
Are Atlantic County Courts Closed Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic?
After the governor issued his executive order closing non-essential businesses, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued their own order regarding the court system. Because in-person court proceedings do not lend themselves well to social distancing, the Supreme Court ordered the closing of all municipal courts and superior courts, including those in Atlantic County, to in-person proceedings except for limited emergent matters. Court dates for the upcoming weeks and months are to be postponed. If you have an upcoming court date, the court should send you some sort of notice that the case is being rescheduled due to the pandemic.
If you have nor received such a notice you should reach out to your Atlantic County criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. If you are not already being represented by a criminal defense attorney, now is certainly the time to get one. Your attorney can speak with the court clerk and the prosecutor handling your case to assure that the matter is being postponed and that you are not required to do anything at this time. In some cases, matters like pre-trial conferences and hearings on motions are still being conducted remotely via videoconferencing systems, although you may not need to appear at these if you have a lawyer.
Once you have confirmed with your lawyer and the court that the date of the proceeding has been postponed, your lawyer can work with the prosecutor to try and work out a remote plea deal. The possibility of this happening is going to depend on each individual situation and each individual prosecutor, but if the prosecutor offers a deal and you accept it, you may be able to fill out a plea by affidavit and send it in the mail to resolve your case. All of these options can be discussed with a skilled criminal defense attorney like those at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych who can guide you through this tricky and unusual time.
What Happens if I Am Arrested in Atlantic County During the Coronavirus Lockdown?
Just because the court system is closed, this does not mean the police in Atlantic County are not out making arrests of lawbreakers as usual. In fact, police presence on the streets has greatly increased during this time as officers try to enforce the governor’s executive order. If you were under investigation for a crime before the pandemic started, this investigation will continue, and the police will be able to apply for arrest warrants remotely. If you commit a new crime, the police will investigate and arrest you.
For minor crimes, the police may be willing to write you a citation and let you go without having to come into the station. However, most of the time you will be taken to the station after an arrest and held there until a bail hearing can occur. These hearings typically occurred somewhere between 24-72 hours after you were booked in normal times. Right now, everything is behind schedule and the hearings are being conducted via videoconference. As such, you could end up spending days or weeks in jail before you even get a hearing. The virus is spreading like wildfire in jails, where social distancing is impossible.
You or a loved one should contact an Atlantic County lawyer as soon as you are arrested or learn that an arrest warrant has been issued. The lawyer can work to get you released from custody as quickly as possible. If a bail hearing must occur, the lawyer can work to expedite it. Keep in mind that bail hearing is something of a misnomer, as New Jersey virtually eliminated the use of cash bail back in 2017. Now the judge decides whether someone can be released based on a number of factors, including the nature and severity of the alleged crime, your criminal history, flight risk, and connections to the community through work and family. A skilled Atlantic City bail hearing lawyer like those at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych can work to craft the best argument based on these factors We will leave no stone unturned trying to convince the judge that you should not languish in jail indefinitely until the court system resumes and your case can be handled.
If You Have an Upcoming Criminal Court Date, Call Our Atlantic County Criminal Defense Lawyers
The court system has been completely upended by the coronavirus pandemic, just like most other parts of our society. You should not take this as a sign that you can completely ignore your case while the virus is upon us, however. You need to contact an experienced South Jersey criminal defense attorney like those at the Law Offices of Joh J. Zarych to work with the prosecutor and the court to ensure your in-person proceeding is postponed and find out what can be done remotely to move your case along. If you are arrested in Atlantic County, we can work to get you out of jail as quickly as possible. For a free consultation, call (609) 616-4956 today.