The Florida Supreme Court has extended the suspension of all criminal and civil jury trials, among other proceedings, from May 29-July 2, according to an amended version of an administrative order issued previously by Chief Justice Charles T. Canady.
In the amended version, issued on May 4, the chief justice also extended the suspension of all time periods involving the speedy trial procedure from June 1-July 6 for all criminal and juvenile court proceedings.
Much of the chief justice’s May 4 amended order repeats past actions, such as the suspension of jury trials, while pushing out by weeks how long they will be in effect. And it re-lists those types of proceedings that must continue despite the pandemic, such as bond hearings. But the amended order also introduces a list of hearing types the chief justice says can be conducted remotely. They are as follows:
1. Alternative dispute resolution proceedings, also known as mediations
2. Status, case management, and pretrial conferences in all case types
3. Non-evidentiary and evidentiary motion hearings in all case types
4. Arraignments and pleas in absentia in county court misdemeanor cases
5. Hearings in juvenile delinquency cases
6. Hearings in noncriminal traffic infraction cases
7. Problem-solving court staffing, hearings, and wellness checks, and
8. Non-jury trials in all case types, except for criminal, juvenile delinquency and termination of parental rights petitions in dependency cases unless the parties in an excepted case agree to the remote conduct of a non-jury trial.
Since the Florida Supreme Court’s first administrative order suspending jury trials was put into effect as a result of COVID-19, Anthony Rondolino, chief judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit, has worked with the circuit’s court technology office to arrange for certain proceedings to be conducted remotely, either through teleconferencing or video conferencing.
These include civil, family, and probate hearings, along with mediation sessions and those types of hearings the supreme court now says should be conducted remotely. Judges have also been using remote technology for those types of hearings, so called mission-critical hearings, which the supreme court has always maintained must continue during the pandemic. The mission-critical hearings are as follows:
1. First appearance hearings, where a defendant appears before a judge within 24 hours of their arrest.
2. Criminal arraignments, where a defendant not in custody enters a plea, but only as necessary.
3. Bond motions for individuals in custody.
4. Detention hearings, where a judge has to decide whether a child should be held.
5. Shelter hearings, when a judge has to decide whether to remove a child from the home.
6. Hearings on petitions for temporary injunctions relating to the safety of an individual. (Beginning April 6, 2020, all violence injunction hearings in Pinellas were to be held in Courtroom One at the County Justice Center in Clearwater).
7. Petitions by law enforcement agencies for risk-protection orders, where someone allegedly posing a threat to someone else or themselves risks losing temporary custody of their firearms.
8. Hearings on petitions for the appointment of an emergency temporary guardian.
9. Hearings to determine whether an individual should be involuntary committed under the state’s Baker or Marchman acts.
10. Hearings on petitions for extraordinary writs as necessary to protect constitutional rights.
11. Proceedings related to a violation of quarantine or isolation, a violation of an order to limit travel, a violation of public or private building closures, and a violation of a curfew. (On March 27, Judge Rondolino ordered that anyone who is arrested on a misdemeanor violation of the coronavirus quarantine will be held without bond at the jails in Pinellas and Pasco counties.)
While conducting these mission-critical proceedings, judges have employed all methods practicable to minimize risk of COVID-19 exposure to the individuals involved in the proceedings and to the general public, including social distancing. All persons are requested to avoid unnecessary attendance for such essential proceedings.
As has been previously stated, although the courts remain open, the goal is to dramatically reduce the number of people reporting to the courthouses each day. Persons who do not have business in the court facilities are requested to refrain from coming into these buildings.