When COVID-19 hit the world early this year, it was difficult to imagine all the ways in which everyday life would change. Nearly half a year later, those changes are more obvious than ever before. One significant upheaval is that of the court system. Court operations have been restricted in Florida since March when the state Supreme Court ordered all jury trials to come to a pause until otherwise noted. Since then, cases have been building up to an overwhelming amount and the threat of logjam is very real for Florida courts.
TRIAL COURT BUDGET COMMISSION REPORT LOOKS DIRE
On average, a normal number of pending cases for Florida is around 1,500,000 cases. However, a report from the Trial Court Budget Commission is anticipating an extra 99,074 cases to be added onto that average. Not only is the pending case average expected to increase it’s load by over 60%, but it is also expected to look this heavy until June 2021. When you consider that about 185,000 cases have not been filed between the months of March and June, you can easily see how things are expected to get worse before they get better. Additionally, over 1,000 criminal and civil jury trials have been delayed since quarantine struck in March of this year.
FLORIDA COURTS AND TECHNOLOGY EFFORTS
Back in July, we reported that Florida Chief Justice Charles Canady formed the Florida Judiciary’s COVID-19 Workgroup to create a pilot program to test out a way to carry out civil jury trials with remote technology to support social distancing. Jurors were first selected with a Zoom session. Upon arrival, they parked in specific spots and were escorted by bailiffs. Each juror had his or her temperature checked and was asked routine questions regarding COVID-19 symptoms. They were spaced six feet apart inside the courtroom, required to wear masks, and were given face shields to use when they moved from one space to another. Witnesses delivered their accounts from behind plexiglass. Only the bare minimum amount of people were allowed in the courtroom, and the process was streamed online for others to safely view. With this process, an entire trial could take over the space of four courtrooms to give space for breaks and lunches. This pilot was only used with civil cases. Civil cases are less complex and can even be sometimes settled without a lawyer present. The ease of these cases make themselves easier targets for everyone involved. Unfortunately, this process is difficult to maintain, especially considering the amount of space it takes to pull off such a feat safely with social distancing. Some counties have been considering adapting their courtrooms once again to accommodate everyone safely. Some models even include barring any outside spectators so that jurors can be spaced out among the jury box and spectator section.
NO JURY TRIALS ANYWHERE IN THE U.S. FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER
Until the Florida Supreme Court says so, not a single grand jury or trial can come together. This is such a drastic change to the court system, and it calls for accountability in several areas. For example, the consistutional rights of accused defendents should be carefully considered during this waiting period. The courts will also have to consider the rights of the victims during this delicate time. While some murder cases need a grand jury indictment to go any further for a death penalty, those involved are being forced to wait for justice.
Victims of the 2018 Parkland shooting are among those that will have to wait for justice to be served for the actions of Nikolas Cruz. After a virtual hearing in the summer, a judge moved to delay Cruz’s trial indefinitely until it is possible to conduct a traditional trial. Cruz took the lives of 17 people, leaving each family the right to a traditional trial for their loved one.
As the court cases continue to pile up, it is clear that several lives will be affected during this waiting game. Some will be affected for the better, and others will be affected for the worse.
PREPARING FOR YOUR CIVIL CASE
Even though cases are logjammed in Florida, you can still use this time to prepare yourself with a trusted lawyer. If you are going to court sometime in the foreseeable future, make sure you have the right legal guidance on your side. The law offices of Keller Melchiorre & Walsh are ready to help you get the justice you deserve. Contact us today to set up a consultation that fits your needs and schedule. Just because trials have come to a halt does not mean your preparation has to. Spend this time working with an attorney at Keller Melchiorre & Walsh so that you can be ready when your day in court comes.