The coronavirus pandemic has upended the entire world. Here in New Jersey, we are seeing some of the highest rates of infections and deaths in the whole of the United States. The governor has issued an executive order mandating that everyone stay at home except for essential workers and those conducting essential activities such as going to the pharmacy or going grocery shopping. Because of the large amount of closures, people with ongoing criminal cases have been left to wonder whether or not they are required to go to court during the coronavirus pandemic. Below, our experienced Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych help explain what you should do if you have an upcoming court date or if you are arrested and face new charges during this public health crisis,
Are the New Jersey Courts Open During the Coronavirus Pandemic?
In mid-March, in response to Governor Phil Murphy’s executive order requiring all non-essential businesses to close down, the chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court issued an order of his own. This order closed down all municipal courts and superior courts while the current public health crisis is ongoing, except for emergent matters. This means that almost all criminal cases with upcoming appearance dates are either rescheduled or postponed indefinitely.
If you have a criminal case currently going through the court system, you should receive a notice from the court that the matter has been postponed due to the coronavirus. However, courts are running a backlog and not all of these notices are going out in a timely manner. The best thing you can do is reach out to your criminal defense attorney who can get in touch with their contacts at the court and the prosecutor’s office to ensure that you are not required to appear in person and find out what the status of your case is. If you do not yet have a lawyer, this is definitely the time to retain a skilled criminal defense attorney like those on the team at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych.
Although most all physical appearances have been halted, this does not necessarily mean that your case will come to a complete pause until the coronavirus public health crisis abates. Attorneys are still able to conduct things like motion hearings and pre-trial conferences remotely through video conferencing services. Furthermore, some prosecutors may be willing to continue negotiating plea deals during this time period. If an adequate plea deal is worked out, or if you simply wish to plead guilty, an attorney can work with the judge and prosecutor to see if you can enter a plea by affidavit, which you will sign and send in the mail to the court.
What Happens if I Am Arrested in New Jersey During the Coronavirus Pandemic?
Although the courts are largely closed or operating remotely, the police are still working full time and are still making arrests of those who break the law during the coronavirus. In fact, officers are patrolling now more than ever in order to enforce the governor’s strict stay-at-home order. If you commit a crime, you will still be arrested. Your arrest will not be postponed until the pandemic ends.
After being arrested, the police may choose to issue a citation without taking you to the station if the offense is minor. However, they may also choose to take you back to the station for the formal booking process, where you are fingerprinted and photographed. Even if you are released on your own recognizance after the booking process, you are still likely to spend some time in the holding facility of the police department where you will be exposed to people who have been out and about in virus -ridden communities.
For more serious crimes, the police will likely want to hold you in jail until a bail hearing can be held. In normal times, it can take between 24-72 hours for you to get in front of a judge for your hearing. Right now, the hearings are delayed in most places due to the fact that they are largely being conducted via videoconferencing. The last place you want to be spending time while a contagious disease is going around is in the often-dirty, overcrowded prison system where social distancing is all but an impossibility. You should call an experienced bail hearing defense attorney like those at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych so we can work to get you out of custody as quickly as possible.
If a bail hearing is held, we can appear in person or remotely to defend you at that hearing. Since New Jersey has virtually done away with cash bail the judge now decides who can be released based on a balancing test. Factors include the seriousness of the crime with which you have been charged, whether you have a prior criminal history, whether you are considered a flight risk or a danger to the community if released, and your ties to the community through work and family. An experienced criminal defense attorney will know how to make the most effective argument based on these factors that you should be released and not held in detention indefinitely until the court system resumes operating normally.
If You Have an Upcoming Court Hearing During Coronavirus, Call Our New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyers Today
This is a time of great uncertainty for all of society, but especially for those who are already facing the intense pressure that comes with having been charged with a crime. The best thing you can do to help understand the changes to the court system during this time is to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney like those at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych if you have not already done so. We can find out the status of your case and inform you if there is anything you need to keep up with during the delay. If you have been newly charged with a crime, we can work to get you released from detention as soon as possible. For a free consultation, call us today at (609) 616-4956.