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COVID-19 Update: When Will the Florida Court System Go Back to Normal?

coronavirus covid-19 and Statue of Justice - law concept

With COVID-19 vaccinations proceeding rapidly in 2021, many people in the legal field and those with pending legal matters are wondering when the Florida court system will get back to normal.

In Duval County, there has been some movement in jury trials with an emphasis on remote proceedings. However, a “back to normal” court system may happen well into the future—and maybe not as normal as before.

The pandemic has left an impact on the judicial system by creating an immense backlog of cases.  In December, the Florida Supreme Court halted the right to a speedy trial leaving many criminal defendants waiting long periods in custody.

The recently released Annual Report by the Florida Supreme Court for 2019-2020 provides insights on the workload facing the courts:

“…even with all the local and branch-wide efforts to continue providing justice to the people of Florida, court operations have been hampered by the coronavirus, and a significant workload increase is anticipated as the courts return to normal operations.

On July 1, 2021, an estimated one million cases beyond what would otherwise be anticipated will be pending.”

The additional caseload is attributed to:

  • Delayed proceedings (proceedings in existing cases that were suspended to protect public safety)
  • Delayed filings (cases for which—due to the onset of the pandemic—filing was delayed but is now anticipated by the courts)
  • Pandemic generated cases (cases related to the public health emergency and declining economic conditions)

In February, the Florida Chief Justice authorized an extension that some criminal jury trials may be conducted remotely due to continuing pandemic conditions.

Under the order:

  • Defendants must agree to the remote trial.
  • Prosecutor’s and victims’ views must be considered by trial judges.

There are hints this may become a normal practice as the pandemic wanes.

When the Florida Chief Justice looked to a return of in-person trials, he suggested that the judicial system may be changed forever:

…although traditional, in-person proceedings will remain central to the work of our courts, we have discovered that much work can be done through remote proceedings, which can significantly reduce the cost and burdens of litigation.

Are Remote Trials Constitutional in Florida?

Many people have expressed constitutional concerns about participating in remote trials. They feel that conducting criminal trials remotely interferes with the defendant’s rights to be present, to confront witnesses, and to communicate privately with counsel.

That’s why it’s imperative that defendants weigh their options and consult an attorney before agreeing to participate in a remote trial.

Get the Legal Help You Need

If you’re currently facing a criminal charge we can help by representing you and defending your rights. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to Fusco Law Group at (904) 567-3113 for a free consultation.