You may be wondering how the current Covid-19 emergency situation will affect your case.
In the past couple of weeks, many courts were scrambling to come up with a viable solution to the Governor’s orders to avoid crowds, to work from home, and to close down state schools. Some courts like Seattle Municipal Court, Bothell Municipal Court, and Lynnwood Municipal Court, were quick to respond by automatically continuing all pending pretrial cases where defendants were out of custody or in the alternative allowing attorneys to file motions to continue cases without the need to appear in court. However, attorneys have been scrambling to stay on top of very different orders out of every municipal court, district court, and superior court all over the state.
The Washington Supreme Court has provided some clarity by issuing an emergency order late in the evening of March 18, 2020. The order covers both civil and criminal cases and orders that:
- All civil jury trials will be suspended until after April 24, 2020.
- All non-emergency civil matters will be continued until after April 24, 2020.
- All emergency matters that must be heard before April 24, 2020, must be heard by telephone, video, or other means that do not require in-person attendance. These hearings must be recorded. If a matter absolutely must be heard in person, the court is requiring strict social distancing and other public health measures be observed.
- All criminal jury trials will be suspended until after April 24, 2020.
- All out of custody criminal matters (where the defendant is not in jail) already filed into the courts and pending will be continued until after April 24, 2020. Arraignment or first appearances on out of custody cases filed between March 18, 2020, and April 24, 2020, shall be deferred for 45 days after the filing of charges.
- No contact orders may be entered by courts ex-parte (without a hearing or a chance for the Defendant to be heard) but only if an information, citation, or complaint is filed with the court and the Judge finds probable cause for a sex offense, domestic violence offense, stalking offense, or harassment offense. These orders may be served by mail.
- For in custody criminal matters (where the defendant is in jail), all matters shall be continued until after April 24, 2020 with the following exceptions:
- Hearings for first appearances, plea hearings, criminal motions, and sentencing hearings.
- When scheduling hearings, pretrial release motions, bail modification motions, and plea and sentence hearings where a defendant is expected to be released within 30 days will take priority. These motions can be filed immediately by attorneys.
- Juvenile court jurisdiction shall be automatically extended through the juvenile’s next scheduled court hearing for juveniles who will reach the age of 18 within 120 days of April 24, 2020, in all cases currently pending and to all cases filed prior to April 24, 2020.
- The serious danger caused by Covid-19 is found to be good cause to continue jury trials triggering excluded periods for the calculation of speedy trial.
- Due to the burden and risk of requiring attorneys to obtain signatures from defendants in criminal matters, this requirement is waived through April 24, 2020.
- In criminal cases, bench warrants may still issue for violations of conditions of release, however, courts should not issue bench warrants for failure to appear in-person for court hearings and pretrial supervision meetings, unless necessary for the immediate safety concerns.
- For motions for pre-trial release of criminal defendants being held in custody:
- Courts will hear motions for pre-trial release on an expedited basis as long as alleged victims and/or witnesses are able to participate.
- The court finds that those persons in custody identified as part of a vulnerable or at-risk population by the CDC are presumed that they automatically have a material change in circumstances due to covid-19 which allows attorneys to bring pre-trial release and bail reduction motions. For all other persons being held in custody, attorneys may still file briefing which explains how covid-19 constitutes a material change in circumstances that may support release.
- Defense attorneys and prosecutors can file agreed orders for release of in-custody defendants which Judges will sign expeditiously.
- If a hearing is required for a motion for release or bail reduction, it shall be scheduled within five days for vulnerable/at-risk defendants, and on an expedited basis for all others.
- Courts must allow telephonic or video appearances for all criminal hearings between now and April 24, 2020, unless impossible. These hearings must be recorded and must provide a means for defense attorneys and clients to have confidential communications during the hearings.
- There may be situations that are not covered by this order and the court encourages parties to contemplate the issues covered in this order when addressing unique circumstances.
- The court may reassess and alter this order as necessary given continually changing circumstances.
- The court may extend time frames in this order if necessary.
At the Law Offices of Lance Fryrear, we understand that this is a very scary and confusing time to be facing a criminal charge. Our skilled attorneys can help you navigate your way through the court system. We handle all criminal matters including DV Assault, DUI, Theft, Trespassing, and Fishing and Hunting Violations in King County, Snohomish County, Skagit County, and all throughout the State of Washington.