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Update on County Criminal Court Schedule and Procedures in Florida

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Posted on May 04, 2020 9:00 AM EST

Courthouse Has Been ClosedThe health pandemic has forced changes over the past months regarding the way criminal county court and other legal proceedings have been handled. Here at DMT, we want to do our best to keep everyone apprised of the situation as it currently stands. We hope this information is helpful for you going forward.

On June 1st, courthouse closures are scheduled to come to an end. Currently, determinations are being made as to how the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building schedules will change in light of this. Here are some of the things county criminal court has been doing and will continue to do as they move forward.

Non-Criminal Traffic Court - Zoom calendars are scheduled to begin in May for attorneys. It will be subsequently opened for Pro Se Defendants as the kinks are worked out. By June 1st it will not be necessary for defendants in these cases to appear at REG unless they want to. This will help minimize crowds that might be asked to attend.

Miami-Dade County Is Now Using Online Dispute ResolutionOnline Dispute Resolution (ODR) - Miami-Dade County is the first county in the state to open ODR. Any citizen who has proof of compliance for a non-criminal charge of lack of insurance, lack of registration, or lack of a driver's license can go online and provide proof. Once accepted, the case will be dismissed and those persons will not be obligated to appear at REG at any time.

Jail Diversion Project (JDP) – This is closed to new entrants because of the current emergency. Cases are still managed and weekly staff meetings have been set up to review these cases. Our remote access courtroom (RAC) provides an avenue to address these matters in court at a special set hearing. Very few people need to be at REG for these hearings. Remote access is encouraged.

First Appearance/Bond Hearings - These video-feed hearings from TGK are conducted daily at 9 AM and then again at 1 PM. This Courtroom cannot be easily Zoom-equipped because of the video-feed equipment, but covering judges have been using their personal computers/iPads to arrange Zoom Meetings upon request to provide remote access. This is being recorded as if the person were physically present. Attorneys may attend via Zoom or in person. Any review of bond status for detained inmates for misdemeanor cases, or other emergency matters brought to our attention for an in-custody defendant, is heard at noon in this Courtroom with the defendant appearing through the direct video-feed from TGK or a Zoom appearance set-up by corrections. Very few persons need to be at REG for these hearings. Remote access is encouraged.

Remote Access CourtroomRemote Access Courtroom (RAC) (5-2 REG) - This courtroom is open daily and is properly Zoom-equipped with a proprietary Zoom address. Any pending out-of-custody case can be calendared through the division judges for a hearing on a motion to divert the case or to enter a plea at a Zoom hearing scheduled in the RAC. If necessary a contested evidentiary hearing can be special set in an afternoon calendar. Very few need to be at REG for these hearings. Remote access is encouraged.

Additionally, several plans and procedures are being considered and worked on regarding opening up court in the County Criminal Division These include:

A review by the state of pending criminal arraignments and pre-trial conferences - The State has been willing during this crisis to do internal reviews of their pending cases to ensure they are weeding out cases that would be dismissed anyway and are using the administrative order process to do so. This helps minimize crowds that might otherwise be asked to attend.

Misdemeanor courtrooms at REG – All misdemeanor courtrooms (2-11, 4-9, 4-10, 5-1, 5-2, 5-7, 6-5, 6-6, 6-7, 6-8, except for 5-3) have been Zoom-equipped, meaning a separate monitor for Zoom attendance is installed and ready. Zoom training for judges and staff is ongoing.

Face to Face Criminal CourtNotices are being modified - We anticipate every hearing through arraignment being Zoomed so persons may appear remotely rather than by appearing in-person at REG. This will minimize crowds that might otherwise be asked to attend.

Post-arraignment hearings not requiring the presence of the defendant (e.g. soundings on DUI cases) – These are likely also to be Zoomed to help minimize crowds that might otherwise be asked to attend.

Specifically Set Jury Trials – These will be coordinated to ensure a minimum of people are impacted and social distancing guidelines can be met in the hallways and waiting areas.

Publicity – Publicity about upcoming changes will be ongoing. It's important to get the word out to a nervous public afraid to return when we do open. We believe that as people read that they have options to in-person appearances and are told of them through media and by word-of-mouth, Zoom attendance will grow quickly on our dockets when in-person presence is not required. This is our goal.

According to the courts, there will always be a need for face-to-face court. Some people just don't have access to online efforts, trials, etc.) so re-considering how to hold court during these critical times (when the traditional model has been that everyone appears personally) has been a struggle for the court systems. The state and the courts understand the importance of opening the criminal divisions in such a way that everyone involved is safe, in a way that respects due process and victim's rights, and one that fosters respect for the institution itself. All of these points are being taken into consideration as we begin to move forward.

Donet, McMillan & Trontz will keep you apprised of developments as they occur. You can call us at (305) 444-0030 should you have any questions or if you require a criminal defense attorney. We're happy to be of assistance and wish you all the best as we all continue to get through the COVID-19 crisis.
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