The coronavirus pandemic has spread across the world at an alarming rate, causing states across America, including Utah, to take drastic steps to social distance and stop the spread of this virus. Under orders by the governor, businesses deemed non-essential are closed and Utah residents have been advised to stay at home unless they are essential workers or doing an essential activity like shopping for groceries or going to the pharmacy. While our efforts have been successful in keeping down rates of infection, they have had major impacts on all aspects of our society. The criminal court system, operating on a severely curtailed basis, has been no exception.
At Overson Law, PLLC, our experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyers have been closely monitoring the status of the criminal court system. We understand how frustrating it can be to have your case delayed after much preparation. Below, our attorneys explain how the criminal courts are currently operating and what our lawyers may be able to do to advance your case at this time.
Are Utah Criminal Courts Operating During Coronavirus?
Most Utah criminal courts are currently closed for the majority of in-person proceedings. There are a limited number of in-person proceedings still occurring, such as hearings on bail for incarcerated individuals in certain instances. Most hearings, however, have either been postponed or are being conducted remotely through a videoconferencing system. All jury trials have been postponed, as no juries are currently being empaneled in the state.
You should not make any assumptions about whether or not your case has been postponed and if you need to show up for court. The best thing you can do is to contact an experienced Utah criminal defense attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC who can reach out on your behalf to the court staff and prosecutor to find out the status of your case and whether anything can be done to advance the case at this time.
What Can Be Done to Advance My Utah Criminal Trial That Has Been Delayed Due to Coronavirus?
By order of the Utah Supreme Court, no juries are being empaneled and all jury trials are suspended until further notice. If you and your lawyer believe that a jury trial is the only option to resolve your case, you are going to have to wait until this order is lifted and the trial is rescheduled. However, we can continue to work on your case by collecting evidence and conducting research during this time.
In Utah, there are certain minor crimes, like most traffic matters, for which your trial is always a bench trial, or a trial before a judge. In other cases, you can choose a bench trial over a jury trial after consulting with your attorney. The Utah Supreme Court is allowing judges some leeway to conduct bench trials remotely over a videoconferencing system if they wish. A skilled criminal defense attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC can work to assess whether a bench trial is the right idea for you and to try to make a remote trial happen if you desire.
There is also the possibility of resolving your case without a trial. This can be done remotely through what is known as a plea by affidavit. Under normal circumstances, a plea by affidavit, which is a form filled out and signed at home and submitted to the court through the mail, is reserved for defendants who live outside of the state of Utah. During the pandemic, however, local judges and prosecutors have been given discretion to accept pleas by affidavit in cases where the defendant is a Utah resident. We can try to work out a deal with the prosecutor for you to plead to a lesser charger by affidavit, or plead to the original charge with the promise of a lenient sentence recommendation.
What Will Happen If I Am Charged with a New Crime in Utah During Coronavirus?
The police department is still working full time making arrests and conducting investigations into crimes. They are able to apply for arrest warrants remotely and can make warrantless arrests on the spot if they have probable cause. After your arrest and booking, you will spend time in jail awaiting your bail hearing. Usually this hearing occurs no more than 48 hours after your booking, but there are currently major delays and you could end up spending more time than usual in a jail facility where the virus can easily spread.
It is vital that you or a loved one contact an experienced Utah bail hearing attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC as soon as possible after the arrest occurs. This will allow us to make quick contact with the police and the court staff and try to get you before a judge for a bail hearing as quickly as possible. It will also allow us to prepare an argument for this hearing, where the judge will decide whether bail should be set and how much bail should be set if so. We will work to get you released on your own recognizance or with affordable bail.
After this, whether any further steps can be taken will depend on a number of factors including whether you want to take the case to trial, whether a bench trial is a possibility, whether the judge is conducting virtual bench trials, and whether the court is accepting pleas by affidavit. If you want a jury trial, you will have to wait. Otherwise, we will make every attempt to advance your case without negatively affecting the outcome.
If Your Criminal Trial Has Been Delayed Due to Coronavirus, Call Our Utah Criminal Defense Attorneys Today
Any unforeseen delays to your criminal proceeding can be anxiety producing, but in the context of a global pandemic they are even more so. At Overson Law, PLLC, our Logan, UT criminal defense attorneys will due everything in our power to move your case forward within the confines of the current restraints on the system. We will work to bring your case to a speedy and positive resolution. Call us today at (801) 758-2287 for a free consultation.