How Will the Coronavirus Affect Criminal Cases?
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption in virtually every arena of American life, and the country’s criminal justice system is not unaffected either. In Kentucky, the court proceedings in criminal cases are delayed because most of the court operations are temporarily suspended.
The administration in Kentucky appears to be more willing at present to consider plea deals in pending cases, and even release some of the people who are currently incarcerated. It is best to have an experienced and resourceful criminal defense attorney by your side at this time who is equipped to engage in virtual meetings and documentation work and continue to remotely work on your defense strategy.
In-Person Court Proceedings Suspended
In response to the coronavirus crisis, the Kentucky Supreme Court has extended its order suspending most in-person court proceedings, which will now last through 24th April. During this period, the courts will take up only a few emergency cases. The Supreme Court, however, said in its order that judges can continue to hold any necessary hearings remotely through video conferencing or phone calls.
In addition to other emergency matters, the courts may also conduct evidentiary hearings in criminal cases as well as domestic violence hearings. These hearings can be conducted by using a video or telephonic system, and it includes mental health hearings and arraignments. Courtroom attendance for these virtual hearings will be limited to the parties, their attorneys and necessary witnesses.
The presiding judge will have the discretion to decide whether any hearing in progress should be continued or not. The order of the Supreme Court has also noted that the courts should make reasonable attempts to reschedule all criminal trials, while accounting for a defendant’s right to have a speedy trial.
Release of 900 State Prisoners
On the 2nd of April, state officials announced that the state intends to release over 900 state prisoners in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. The governor signed an executive order to commute the sentences of 186 felons following their Covid-19 tests and after ensuring that they can be quarantined at their residence.
It is important to note that if the released prisoners fail to comply with the guidelines issued by the state, the officials can re-impose their sentences. The prisoners who have been released were serving sentences for the lowest level felonies (Class C and Class D felonies). Certain felons were not considered for release, depending on the severity of their offense.
Any prisoners convicted of sex related or violent crimes were not released. The state identified the prisoners for release after screening them on the basis of the CDC guidelines, and chose to release inmates who were found to be more vulnerable to Covid-19 because of pre-existing respiratory, heart or other medical conditions.
Apart from the inmates who were released, the state has additionally identified 743 prisoners who are within six months of the completion of their sentences. They are also being released pending final processing. The governor’s office said that releasing these prisoners is helping to reduce the burden on the corrections system at present, while protecting others within the system that are at the risk of exposure to the virus.
Overcrowded Jails Endanger Inmates
Skilled and committed criminal defense lawyers in Kentucky are fighting to protect the rights of their clients in view of the prevailing coronavirus situation. More than 50 percent of the 24,000 state prisoners in Kentucky are currently housed in local jails because the state prisons are full. This has resulted in overcrowding of the county jails and increasing their risk to Covid-19.
While Kentucky has moved swiftly to shut down schools, churches, theaters, gyms, and restaurants where people might congregate and get exposed to the highly contagious virus, the same principle of safety has not been applied to the prisoners across the state. In nearly half of the 80 local jails in Kentucky, inmates cram together in tight spaces because these jails are operating at 125 percent of their capacity or more.
These inmates have no choice but to breathe stale air in their packed cells, use common toilets that rarely have lids, and sleep side by side on unclean concrete floors. Clearly, thousands of jail inmates in Kentucky (with nearly half of them serving felony time in state prisons) are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 and other infectious diseases.
Fighting for the Release from Prison
A number of dedicated criminal defense attorneys as well as organizations such as the Bail Reform Project and the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy are putting up a robust fight to secure release of vulnerable prisoners to protect their lives. They have approached the Justice Cabinet and Parole Board in the state to seek the early release of lower risk inmates under certain conditions.
Talk to an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Kentucky Today
You have a constitutional right to have legal representation at every step of your criminal prosecution process. Dedicated criminal defense lawyer Ron Aslam is ready to defend your interests and protect your rights through all situations to obtain a best possible resolution of your criminal matter.
For more than a decade, Ron Aslam Law Office in Kentucky has been successfully representing clients facing various types of criminal legal challenges. To schedule a free consultation, call us now at 502-581-1676.