The COVID-19 pandemic is dramatically affecting Arizona's court system. The Arizona Supreme Court has issued numerous Administrative Orders that are hugely affecting criminal cases throughout the state. They also have launched an Arizona Courts COVID-19 website. Here's what you need to know.
1. Speedy Trial Rights Are Being Denied Due to COVID
You may be familiar with the term "speedy trial." That's because it's in the constitution. Specifically, the Arizona Constitution guarantees the accused a "speedy public trial by an impartial jury" in every felony criminal case. Ariz. Const. Art. II, Sec. 24.
But during COVID-19, the right to a speedy trial is being denied to thousands of defendants in Arizona. The Arizona Supreme Court is allowing for the suspension, or exclusion, of speedy trial time calculations due to the fact that a jury trial, by its very nature, requires large groups of people to be in the same room. This is exactly the "highest risk" scenario that the CDC recommends avoiding. The result is that constitutional rights are being pitted against a public health crisis.
Thousands of criminal cases are being delayed in Arizona as a result. Unfortunately, some of those defendants are being held on high bonds, sitting in county jails, waiting for a trial that is anything but "speedy."
Fortunately, defendants have the right to petition the court to modify their release conditions.
2. Jail Terms Are Being Waived In Some Cases
Instead of sending people to jail, some judges are more and more open to the idea of home detention and GPS monitoring. In many Arizona DUI cases, where jail could be a mandatory penalty, due to the risk of COVID-19 spreading inside the jail system, home detention with continuous alcohol monitoring is being utilized. This can keep you out of jail, away from the risk of other inmates spreading COVID-19 to you.
In cases involving at-risk people waiting for their "speedy" trials, release to pretrial services supervision, along with GPS monitoring, may be utilized. A number of jails, including the Coconino County Detention Facility in Flagstaff, are trying to keep the jail population numbers down so that quarantines can be utilized to stop the spread of the virus.
Undeniably, jails and prisons are extremely dangerous places for the spread of COVID-19. Throughout the United States, around 20% of inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. Sadly, at least 1,700 inmates have died due to COVID-19, while incarcerated. This is why it is so important for your attorney to make every effort possible under Arizona law to get you or your loved one out of jail as soon as possible.
3. Criminal Case Charging Is In Crisis Mode in Northern Arizona
We hear the same questions time and time again.
- "When will my case be charged?"
- "If I haven't been charged, does that mean it's dismissed?"
- "Why do they want to prosecute me now that I'm employed and have my life together?"
The COVID-19 pandemic has hugely delayed the charging of both felony and misdemeanor cases. While the system is getting backed up, with hundreds of trials being vacated and continued, the list of cases waiting to be charged is also growing fast. This means that there is a backlog to a system that is already backlogged. It is quickly becoming a constitutional crisis.
You can be arrested, released, and then hear absolutely nothing about your case for months or even years. In Arizona, a felony case can be charged up to seven (7) years later. A misdemeanor case can be filed up to one (1) year later. This means you may have completely moved on with your life, only to receive a summons (or notice of an arrest warrant) when you least expect it.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to improve your position while waiting for your case to be filed. And when it is filed, you can have an attorney ready to fight for you immediately. Don't let your criminal charges ruin all of your hard work.
Contact Experienced Flagstaff Criminal Defense Attorneys Today
At the Griffen & Stevens Law Firm, PLLC, we're on the frontlines of the legal crisis currently facing the Arizona court system. If you need legal help during the COVID-19 crisis, contact us today for a free consultation on your criminal defense or personal injury case. We'd be honored to consult with you.