The Judicial Response To COVID-19

The Judicial sector is one sector no one would immediately think of when considering the COVID-19 virus and its effects. Nevertheless, its effects were felt in the Judicial system, and reaction to the pandemic was swift, preventing it from paralyzing the system.

At the emergence of the virus in March 2020, the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators quickly put together a Rapid Response Team (RRT), involving the NCSC, and laid down protocols, safety measures by the CDC to ensure a continuous process. This enabled state courts to proceed with dealings and also created the framework to ease the return to court, once possible. 

There have been innovations to help this movement, largely under 3 touch points – communications and funding, court management, and technology. This ensures that no aspect disrupts the entire system.

Efforts in place to ensure safety measures are

  • Granting extensions for court deadlines and fees payments;
  • Suspending in-person proceedings, following up with virtual access;
  • Restricting entrances to court;
  • Ending or restricting jury trials;
  • Publishing of updated and recent guides and protocols.

On August 18, 2020, the Supreme Court of the state of Hawai’i pushed for an order concerning the extension of the time, for arraignments and other needful processes, this was done and was to expire on February 14, 2021, however, it has been renewed further till March 31, 2021, with hopes that the effects of the virus continue to reduce.

Furthermore, recently, as the COVID – 19 cases seem to reduce, court operations seem to pick up, though in line with safety practices and as much as possible with the resources.

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COVID-19 in Jails and Prisons

In the early months of the pandemic, the effects were terrible and drastic, wiping out almost everything in its path. This was also because next to nothing was known about the virus. The CDC and WHO advised several precautionary and prevention methods to help reduce the spread and infection, this included handwashing and/or use of sanitizers as often as possible.

As easy and simple as these tactics sounded at the time, individuals in prisons did not have the luxury of regular hand washing or access to sanitizers, and many of them had existing health conditions, furthermore, the health care systems in these places were limited, so utilizing basic protocols would be a stretch.

An interesting case at the time, Ex Parte: Matthew Gonzalez, who was arrested for murder and released on a pretrial bond payment of $200,000 in 2019. In March 2020, he was indicted for murder and the bond increased to $500,000, he surrendered himself and was taken into custody. Later in the same month, he filed a writ application for reinstatement of previous bond amount or release on recognizance due to the jail’s inability to put in place required COVID-19 precaution and treatment systems. He cited the CDC’s guidelines and insisted that county jail was in direct violation of these guidelines and would foster a quick spread of the virus. This writ was denied, however, it brought to limelight concerns about the system in Prisons, Jails, and dealing with COVID-19.

The CDC advised:

  • Staff should stay home once ill
  • Identifying locations that can be used for isolation before the need for it
  • Providing enough supply of cleaning and medical items
  • Setting up systems for the safe transfer of individuals between facilities
  • To utilize a 14 day quarantine period where necessary

The Federal Bureau of Prisons previously released a guide suspending social and legal visits for a while, limiting staff travel and additional screening for the disease. Other methods in use to reduce spread are

  • Limiting the number of new inmates
  • Sending inmates with low threat possibility to a public safety home
  • Balancing concerns about security with ensuring adequate support to keep prisoners safe.

Ways to support locked up individuals include

  • Sign a petition to advocate for better health care for the inmates
  • Donate to a community fund used for bailout purposes
  • Advocate for inmates to be able to call their families and advocates for free during this phase.
  • Send a letter to the President, Governor, and people in authority to release the elderly, those with a medical condition, and those with a year or less in their sentence to reduce the population of inmates.
  • Find out more information and share awareness

This way, everyone can play a small role to help incarcerated individuals.

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Grannies Goods

Two middle-aged women portrayed themselves as elderly women at a vaccination center in Florida recently.

These women, aged 34 and 44 adorned themselves in bonnets, gloves including spectacles, passing off as elderly ladies to get their second shots. They had valid documents showing they had previously gotten an initial shot, implying their ruse must have worked once before; however, they were issued with warnings and denied the second shot.

At present in Florida, individuals 65 years and older and health care personnel are being prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccination.

Dr. Raul Pino, an Orange County health official disclosed that security has been increased at vaccination sites to prevent similar and other occurrences. Possibly this ruse would get the Governor’s attention and result in opening up eligibility to the vaccines.

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