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Do I Need to Go to Court? Massachusetts Courts Issue Orders for COVID

Following Governor Baker declaring a state of emergency and imploring residents to practice social distancing in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the courts have placed some limits on their proceedings. These limitations are changing rapidly and I will do my best to keep you updated.

As of March 17, 2020 at 9:48 am I am aware of the following:

  1. State District Courts:
  • Courts are closed to the public March 16 and 17, 2020. People arrested and detained will appear before a judge in some form  although it may be over the phone from the police station. They will be appointed counsel if required;
  • There will be no jury trials. All jury trials scheduled to begin between now and April 17 have been continued. They will be rescheduled to a date no earlier than April 21, 2020;
  • All criminal matters scheduled from March 18 to May 1 for people not in custody are continued and will be reschedule no earlier than May 4;
  • Summons arraignments to appear between March 18 to May 1 are continued;
  • Events for people in custody will be held, heavily favoring video conferencing. People in custody will be transported to court for bench trials, changes of plea, and evidentiary motions (including suppression hearings, probable cause hearings, and dangerousness hearings). Probation hearings for people in custody will be done via video conferencing;
  • Clerk Magistrate hearings will be rescheduled no earlier than May 4;
  • Restraining orders hearings and Section 35’s will be conducted in court as usual;
  • The order seems to suggest that probation hearings for people out of custody will be held as usual but check in with you lawyer about that. It’s a little unclear;
  • Fees/fines due between March 18 to May 1 will be deferred until after May 1. Online payment is encouraged but the Court acknowledge that not everyone has the capability to pay on-line;
  • The order does not address probation check-ins. Please call your PO about that.

Here is a link to the order. It’s a little confusing but hopefully my summary helps.

  1. Boston Municipal Court
  • Courts are closed to the public March 16 and 17, 2020. People arrested and detained will appear before a judge in some form  although it may be over the phone from the police station. They will be appointed counsel if required;
  • All jury trials scheduled between now and April 17 will be rescheduled to a date no earlier than April 21, 2020;
  • All criminal matters scheduled from March 18 to May 1 for people not in custody are continued and will be reschedule no earlier than May 4;
  • Summons arraignments to appear between March 18 to May 1 are continued to a date no earlier than May 4;
  • Clerk Magistrate hearings scheduled between March 18 to May 1 will be rescheduled no earlier than May 4;
  • Court events for people in custody will be held including arraignments for people under arrest, jury-waived trials, changes of plea, and evidentiary motions (including suppression hearings, probable cause hearings, and dangerousness hearings).
  • Probation violation hearings for people in custody will be held in court. Probation violation hearing for people out of custody will be continued until after May 4 ;
  • Warrant removals and violations of pre-trial release will be conducted in court;

Link to the order

3. State Superior Court

  • Courts are closed to the public March 16 and 17, 2020. People arrested and detained will appear before a judge in some form  although it may be over the phone from the police station. They will be appointed counsel if required;
  • All jury trials scheduled to begin before April 21, 2020 are continued and will be rescheduled;
  • The appearance of people out of custody will be waived at the request of their counsel unless the judge decides there is a compelling reason to have them present;
  • People in custody will not be brought to court for pre-trials and status conferences and they can waive their right to be present for other events;
  • Requests to postpone cases will be liberally granted.

Link to the order

4. Juvenile Court

  • Courts are closed to the public March 16 and 17, 2020. People arrested and detained will appear before a judge in some form  although it may be over the phone from the police station. They will be appointed counsel if required;
  • All delinquency and youthful offender matters scheduled for an event between March 18 and May 1 for a person who is not in custody is canceled and will be rescheduled to a date no earlier than May 4th;
  • All jury trials scheduled to begin before April 21 are canceled and will be rescheduled to a date no earlier than April 21st;
  • All matters other than jury trials involving a juvenile in custody will be heard as scheduled although video conferencing may be used instead of in court appearances
  • Probation violation hearings for juveniles in custody will be heard but not for juveniles out of custody. Contact the probation department regarding probation check-ins since that is not referenced in the court’s order;
  • Summons arraignments scheduled for March 18 to May 1 will be continued to a date no earlier than May 4. Juveniles under arrest and held will be arraigned;
  • Clerk Magistrate hearings scheduled between March 18 and May 1 are canceled and will be rescheduled to a date no earlier than May 4;
  • Fees/fines due between March 18 to May 1 will be deferred until after May 1. Online payment is encouraged but the Court acknowledge that not everyone has the capability to pay on-line;
  • Restraining orders hearings and Section 35’s will be conducted in court as usual;
  • Care and Protection, Child Requiring Assistance, and Adoption matters are also addressed in the order but I have not included them in my summary.

Link to the order

5. Federal Court

  • All jury trials scheduled to begin prior to April 21 are continued and will be rescheduled
  • Initial appearances, arraignments, and detention hearings will take place as usual but the presiding judge is permitted to use video conferencing where possible;
  • All hearings pre-trial other than detention/release hearings are cancelled and will be pushed out by 60 days unless the presiding judge decides that there is a compelling reason to hold the hearing sooner;
  • All hearings involving possible revocation of probation or supervised release are continued for 60 days unless the presiding judge decides there is a compelling reason to hold the hearing sooner;
  • All hearings involving changes of plea continued for 60 days unless the presiding judge decides there is a compelling reason to hold the hearing sooner. The hearing may be conducted by video conference;
  • All sentencing hearings are continued for 60 days unless the defendant is in custody and: 1) either party requests a sentence that would be served prior to the 60 day continuance date; 2) the sentencing guideline range permits a non-custodial sentence; 3) the presiding judge finds compelling reason to hold the hearing sooner.

Link to the order re: jury trials

Link to the order re: hearings on criminal cases

PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LAWYER OR THE CLERK’S OFFICE ABOUT WHETHER YOU NEED TO BE IN COURT! (And if you would like to hire a lawyer you can call me.)

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