As the COVID-19 virus continues to impact our daily lives, a question we frequently hear from our clients is “How will this affect my case?” With all schools now closed and restaurants being limited to delivery and take-out orders only, many in the community are hearing rumors about court closures and limiting access to jails and detention facilities.
We are continuing to monitor this ever-changing situation and are working with the individual courts and judges to ensure our clients’ needs are still being met, whether that is arguing bond, confirming or rescheduling court appearances, or speaking with prosecutors and law enforcement about ongoing investigations.
While other businesses are closed and courts have suspended most in-person appearances, our office remains open. We are continuing to do the same behind-the-scenes work on our cases and we expect cases to move quickly once courts return to their normal schedules.
If you or a loved one have been charged with a crime or if you are unsure about the status of your case, call us at 205-930-9800 for a telephone or video consultation.
On March 13, 2020, the Alabama Supreme Court issued Administrative Order No. 1 effectively suspending all “IN-PERSON” proceedings in all state and local courts in Alabama, including, but not limited to, proceedings in the circuit court, district court (including cases on the small claims docket), juvenile court, municipal court, probate court, and appellate courts, suspending them beginning Monday, March 16, 2020, through Thursday, April 16, 2020. On April 2, 2020, the Supreme Court of Alabama issued Administrative Order No. 5, extending the state of emergency for Alabama's Unified Judicial System until April 30, 2020. On April 30, 2020, the Alabama Supreme Court issued Administrative Order No. 6, continuing court closures for an additional 2 weeks. This order allowed for a limited opening for employees, but courts remained closed to the public. For further updates, local court information, and resources, check the Alabama State Bar website.
Of particular importance to clients of Jaffe, Hanle, Whisonant & Knight, was the exception permitting “Proceedings necessary to protect constitutional rights of criminal defendants, including bond-related matters and plea agreements for incarcerated individuals”. Although the courts will not be conducting any jury trials for the next several weeks, please know we will still be appearing to handle motions to reduce bond and plea hearings for clients who remain in custody.
On March 16, 2020, Presiding Judge Elisabeth French, issued a resolution closing the Jefferson County Courthouse (both Bessemer and Birmingham) to the public. In a written statement, Judge French stated:
"The County Commission has now declared a state of emergency for Jefferson County due to COVID-19. The courthouses will be closed to the public and to attorneys until April 6, 2020. If you have hearings or bench trials set, please contact the Judge’s chambers for further information."
On March 18, 2020, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement canceling all visitation to the Jefferson County Jail (both Bessemer and Birmingham facilities) due to COVID-19 concerns. The Jefferson County Jail also will be releasing some inmates who are in custody as a result of misdemeanor charges, who have health issues, have unpaid traffic citations or aren’t considered a flight risk. The number of inmates to be released was not known and the Jail confirmed that no violent offenders would be released.
On March 24, 2020 the Council of the City of Birmingham issued a "Shelter in Place Order" that is set to remain in effect until April 3, 2020. This order establishes a public safety curfew, requiring all persons in Birmingham remain in their place of residence, with several exceptions. A few of the exceptions include leaving to purchase essential items or to work at an essential business, and social distancing requirements must be followed.
After the President declared a national emergency, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, H.R. 748 (the CARES Act) on March 27, 2020. This Act authorizes the use of video and telephone conferencing for certain criminal case events upon the consent of the defendant. On March 30, 2020 the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama issued General Order Number 2020-3 in response to the CARES Act, authorizing the use of audio and video teleconferencing to conduct various criminal case events.
On April 3, 2020, the State Health Officer issued a statewide Stay at Home Order. As of April 4, 2020, every person is ordered to stay at his or her place of residence except as necessary to perform “essential activities.” On the list of essential businesses and operations is Legal Services, meaning that Jaffe, Hanle, Whisonant & Knight, P.C. is still open and here to help you.