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How the Criminal Justice System Is Handling Covid-19

By now, everyone is familiar with Covid-19, the disease caused by the Coronavirus that has made its way across the globe in record time. Unexplained deaths are being attributed to this notorious virus that’s taking lives of everyone from infants to the elderly with no discrimination or hesitation as to when or why. The entire world is being told to social distance themselves at least six feet from one another, or stay home. Not everyone has the option to do either of those actions to protect themselves. Prisons across the country are reporting positive cases of Covid-19 in guards as well as inmates.

Guards have the ability to leave the prison facility, go grocery shopping, and go about their lives as normally as they can during the pandemic. Because they are essential employees, they have to return to the prison and interact with inmates in confined quarters. Inmates don’t have the ability to create additional space among themselves and those convicted of certain violent crimes such as murder or kidnapping have little chance of early parole, if at all. This places them at risk for becoming infected by anyone entering the prison, including newly sentenced inmates.

Minimizing the risk of Covid-19 throughout the criminal justice system

It’s been said time and again that we need to flatten the curve by reducing cases of Covid-19 and the criminal justice system is discovering new ways to reduce the risk of infection. Every part of the process is affected from arrest to incarceration.

  • Restricting or ending jury trials
  • Restricting entrance into courthouses
  • Suspending in-person hearings
  • Granting extensions for deadlines, including for payment of fees and fines to reduce contempt charges resulting in jail time
  • Using videoconferencing or teleconferencing to carry out hearings
  • Issuing citations rather than making arrests for non-violent crimes
  • Implementing an early release policy from jails and prisons, when appropriate
  • Suspending prison visitations

What about my right to a speedy trial?

Any of the tools being used to minimize the risk of exposure to the virus can result in a delay of your case being tried, though ongoing cases have not been suspended. However, this delay may work to the advantage of anyone who is facing criminal charges. It provides your defense attorney additional time to investigate and formulate alternate defense strategies. It could also possibly increase the likelihood of negotiating a plea to a lesser charge or reduced sentence depending upon the seriousness of the charges. The longer the state is under orders to social distance and isolate to combat Covid-19, the better your chances become in some cases that your attorney could successfully argue for a reductions or dismissal of certain  charges.

Enforcement of quarantine may result in criminal prosecution

The Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has ordered infected individuals and family members living in the home to remain self-quarantined for a specified period. Under S.C. Code § 44-4-530(C) “A person subject to isolation or quarantine must comply with DHEC’s rules and orders, and must not go beyond the isolation or quarantine premises. Failure to comply with these rules and orders constitutes a felony.”

Because you cannot leave the home for any reason during the quarantine period, medical emergencies need to be handled by having an ambulance dispatched to transport the individual treatment. During a pandemic, medical services are already strained, which can lead to a life or death decision to break quarantine to obtain medical help. This may open up a whole new category of cases to prosecute and charges to be defended since the penalty for conviction may be a fine of up to $1,000 and/or incarceration for up to 30 days.

Randy Hough is a trusted criminal defense attorney who has helped many clients defend their rights and protect their futures following an arrest for all ranges of criminal charges. Our team is experienced at building a strong case to protect what you hold most dear – your family, reputation, livelihood, and freedom.

Schedule your free consultation with The Law Offices of A. Randolph Hough, P.A. today by calling our Columbia office at 803-590-0214, our Charleston office at 843-507-4558, or by reaching out to us through my firm’s contact page.