The coronavirus pandemic will have lasting impacts to the U.S. justice system, with widespread delays in criminal court proceedings, family court and immigration, creating a backlog that could last for years.
Trials and hearings face delays under normal circumstances, but under COVID-19 restrictions, all jury trials have been suspended on a state-by-state basis and all immigration hearings have been suspended until at least May 15.
In Florida, Supreme Court Chief Justice Canady created a working group to make recommendations about how and when court operations can resume. However, under his most recent administrative order, jury trials won’t resume until at least July.
Canady also ordered other hearings and court business to be conducted remotely. This includes non-jury trials, if all parties agree, some arraignments, status and motion hearings and pretrial conferences.
For first-degree murder cases, the new order also suspends some requirements for in-person preliminary hearings and the requirement that defendants be automatically released from custody, if prosecutors are unable to file charges within 40 days. Those requirements are suspended until at least July 2.
The National Center for State Courts created a data visualization showing its work tracking pandemic closures across the country and in U.S. territories. Their interactive map shows Florida is in line with other states that have delayed jury trial schedules into late summer, while some states will begin in the next few weeks or have suspended jury trials until further notice.
As for the country’s highest court, the U.S. Supreme Court had initially postponed arguments in 20 cases scheduled for March and April because of the virus, but the justices ultimately decided to hear 10 cases by phone over six days this month. They heard their first arguments by phone on Monday.
According to a report from the Chicago Reader, the suspension of immigration hearings leaves many immigrants in limbo and will worsen an already backlogged system.
“Even before the coronavirus hit, the immigration court system was reeling under unprecedented backlogs, delays, and public outcry from lawyers and NAIJ, which represents over 400 of the judges at the nation’s 63 courts. Immigration courts now face over 1.1 million backlogged cases, a number that has skyrocketed under the Trump administration,” the Chicago Reader reports.
According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, a data research and data distribution organization at Syracuse University, Florida alone had 94,600 pending immigration cases as of March.
The pandemic impacts also reach outside of delayed trials and hearings. Law firms across the U.S. have furloughed employees or cut pay to sustain their finances through the COVID-19 outbreak. Law.com has a full list law firms that have adopted these measures amid the pandemic.
The full impacts of the coronavirus on the legal system remains to be seen but the affects will be far reaching.