As the coronavirus has traveled across the world, governments have worked to slow its spread by shutting down non-essential businesses and encouraging people to stay at home and social distance as much as possible. This has had devastating effects on all aspects of society, and the criminal justice system has bene no exception. Many people who had upcoming criminal court events like arraignments scheduled for their case are uncertain about whether or not they still need to appear in court and what can be done to advance their case at this time.
At Overson & Bugden, our Salt Lake City criminal defense attorneys have been closely monitoring the status of the criminal court system throughout the state. We can advise you on what steps, if any, you need to take at this time to fulfill your obligations under the criminal system. We can also work to resolve your case remotely where possible. Below, we explain what to do if you have a pending case during this time.
The Status of Criminal Arraignments in Utah During Coronavirus
In general, in-person criminal court proceedings have been suspended to keep court staff, attorneys, and defendants safe from the spread of the virus. There are exceptions to this rule for bail hearings where the defendant is in custody and hearings for protective orders in domestic violence cases. However, as per the order of the Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court, all in-person criminal trials and hearings for criminal defendants not in custody have been postponed until at least June 1, 2020. Therefore, unless you are being held in custody, your arraignment is likely to be postponed.
However, if you have an upcoming court date and have not heard anything, you should not assume it has been cancelled. In some cases, courts are holding these events remotely and you may still be required to appear over videoconference. The best thing you can do is to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney like those at Overson & Bugden who can reach out to the court staff and prosecutor and find out the status of your case, whether you need to appear remotely, and whether anything can be done to advance the matter at this time.
What Can Be Done for Postponed Arraignments in Utah During the Coronavirus Pandemic?
If you are arrested and are being held in custody pending a bail hearing, you or a loved one needs to reach out to a skilled Utah bail hearing attorney like those at Overson & Bugden as soon as possible. Currently, bail hearings are running on a delayed schedule due to staff shortages, special protections implemented due to the virus, and the fact that some judges, lawyers, and court staff are working remotely over teleconferencing systems. This is not a good time to spend any more time in jail than you have to, as jails, with their lack of sanitary conditions and overcrowding issues, are prime places for the virus to spread. We can fight to get you released with little to no bail.
Those in custody will likely be arraigned at the time of their bail hearing. If you are not in custody, your arraignment may be delayed. An experienced criminal defense attorney like those at our firm can work with the local judge and prosecutor to see if they are willing to conduct the arraignment over videoconference and to find out what other steps can be taken during the pandemic to settle your case and prevent this matter from hanging over your head.
What Comes after My Arraignment in a Utah Criminal Case During Coronavirus?
Even if you are able to be arraigned while the court system has severely curtailed its activities, it is not clear if and how your case will be able to proceed after that. If you are interested in accepting a potential plea deal, we can reach out to the prosecutor to see if they are willing to conduct negotiations remotely. If we are able to reach a deal that satisfies you, we may be able to work out a situation with the court and prosecutor where you can plead by affidavit.
A plea by affidavit is entered by filling out and signing a form and sending it into the court via the mail. It is usually only permitted in select cases where the defendant is from out-of-state. However, during the current public health crisis, courts and judges have been given more discretion to accept pleas by affidavit from in-state defendants if they wish to do so. An experienced criminal defense attorney like those at Overson & Bugden can work to convince the local judge and prosecutor to accept your plea by affidavit so you can put this matter behind you and return to your life.
If you are interested in taking the matter to trial, what can be done currently will depend on whether you are eligible for a bench trial. A bench trial is a trial where the judge, rather than a jury, makes decisions about innocence or guilt. For low-level crimes like most traffic matters, a bench trial is your only option. In other cases, you may be able to choose a bench trial instead of a jury trial. The Utah Supreme Court is permitting judges to conduct bench trials remotely in some cases if all parties agree and if it is feasible. You attorney can talk to the judge about whether this might be a possibility in your case.
If you want a jury trial, though, you are going to have to wait, as criminal juries are not even being empaneled in the state until at least June. In the meantime, however, you attorney can work on your case by conducting research and collecting evidence.
If Your Arraignment Has Been Postponed Due to Coronavirus, Call Our Utah Criminal Defense Lawyers Today
The entire Utah criminal justice system has been affected by the ongoing public health crisis. Most in-person criminal proceedings have been rescheduled or postponed. At Overson & Bugden, our experienced Park City criminal defense attorneys understand how frustrating it can be for you to have your case delayed and your future up in limbo. We will do everything in our power to advance your case during this unprecedented time and bring it to a positive resolution. For a free, confidential consultation, call us today at (801) 758-2287.