As COVID-19 concern sweeps the nation, especially in the national hot-spot of the virus here in Horwath Law’s home in the Pacific Northwest, many of us legal-minded people are considering the impacts COVID-19 will bring to our criminal justice system. We are seeing state-wide closures in most courts. The Washington Supreme Court just ordered that all out of custody criminal matters will be continued until after April 24th. Many State and Municipal Court have postponed out of custody court dates and jury trials until after May 1st. The effects of this viral outbreak are being felt by our clients as their speedy-trial rights are temporarily put on the back burner to support the slow of this virus.
How are courts treating our clients who are in custody and unable to post bail during the viral outbreak? Jails are notorious breading grounds for disease and infection, so we are especially concerned about the impacts this partial shutdown has for those unable to post bail and now unable to set their cases for a jury trial in the very near future. Attorneys are and should be arguing for bail reductions, especially for the clients whose health conditions are already fragile, putting them at greater risk of complication from a potential infection of COVID-19. The COVID-19 outbreak does represent a material change for purposes of conditions of release. Additionally, others have called for prosecutors and police departments to take action against the spread of COVID-19 by not arresting those being referred for charges on low level, non-dangerous offenses and not making requests for bail on the same low-level offenses. Social distancing is frankly not something that can be promoted well in a jail, meaning there is a huge need to keep our jails as empty as possible.
From an international perspective, COVID-19 has sparked Italy to consider criminally charging those who breach the lockdown in place. Offenders could be charged with intentional murder punishable by up to a 21-year sentence if they display symptoms of COVID and refuse to self-isolate, and who then end up needlessly passing on the virus. While an interesting thought, we don’t believe there has been any discussion of this level of action in the United States, although Governor Inslee did mention the potential for Washington state to seek injunctions against those who violate any of the COVID-19 bans in place, if the need arose to that, but he also added that he is optimistic that Washingtonians will abide by the bans because as a whole Washington is a science-minded state and understands that social-distancing and isolation is the biggest defense against this viral outbreak, we at Horwath Law are also optimistic.
At Horwath Law, while we are taking every precaution to promote social distancing and isolation, we are open, available, and on call to help our clients in any way we can, as we know that COVID-19 will not end the need for our thorough representation. We hope each of our client’s are able to stay safe and get through this crazy time and know that we will help see them through this time.