Although in-person hearings and trials are back in session, the courts are still dealing with a backlog of cases, and the courts are constantly adapting to the changing COVID safety guidelines, so defendants must partner with their lawyers to cope with the unexpected and stand up for their rights.
Being a defendant in a criminal case is stressful and being alive during the COVID-19 pandemic is stressful. Put them together, and it is utterly nerve-wracking. The days of entering a plea over Zoom and meeting with your probation officer virtually are over, at least for now. The criminal courts in Georgia are open for in-person hearings and jury trials, but if we have achieved a new normal with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that anything can change at any moment. One of the few things that has not changed because of the pandemic is your constitutional rights as a defendant in a criminal case. An Atlanta criminal defense lawyer can help you exercise your rights as a defendant in a criminal case, no matter what new COVID variants and social distancing measures may come along.
Justice in the Time of COVID
Earlier this year, approximately a year after they closed and switched to online operations, Georgia courts reopened for in-person meetings. Defendants have the right to plead not guilty to criminal charges and to have a jury of their peers decide the verdict in the case. Jury selection is never a simple matter; attorneys for the prosecution and the defense often disagree sharply about whether a certain juror can be impartial about the case.
Jury verdicts are supposed to be unanimous, and for the most serious crimes, the jury can only return a verdict of guilty if the jurors are certain beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty as charged. Meanwhile, 74% of people called for jury duty have expressed concern about COVID exposure while sequestered indoors with other jurors. Could this mean that some jurors will hastily return a guilty verdict even when they continue to harbor reasonable doubt just to get away from the COVID risk associated with jury duty?
The Right to a Speedy Trial
The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy and public trial, but the pandemic left defendants waiting for trial for much longer times than usual. If the court makes you wait an unreasonably long time for your trial, you may be able to get the case against you dismissed, but what constitutes a reasonable length of time to wait for trial during the pandemic is still up for debate.
Meanwhile, you should keep checking the website of your county’s court system for updates and stay in close contact with your lawyer for new information about the operating status of the courts. Your lawyer may be able to get your case dismissed if the system has violated your rights by making you wait too long.