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A Virus Side Effect: Better Access to U.S. Criminal Court Cases

April 3, 2020, 7:27 PM

The public and the media will get greater access to some criminal proceedings, even as federal courts around the U.S. curtail in-person hearings to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said on Friday.

It’s the latest signal that the novel pandemic is changing business as usual for the nation’s courts—if only temporarily.

“Media organizations and the public will be able to access certain criminal proceedings conducted by videoconference or teleconference for the duration of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, according to new guidance provided to federal courts,” according to the agency announcement.

The new Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act lets chief judges authorize the use of video or telephone conferencing in select criminal proceedings during the course of the COVID-19 emergency and with the consent of defendants, the office said. The nation’s federal courts previously expanded access in civil proceedings.

“The CARES Act and this new temporary authorization apply only to access through videoconference and teleconference,” the AO announcement said.

The new provision expires 30 days after the emergency ends or when the Judicial Conference says that the federal courts are no longer “materially affected” by the virus—whichever is earlier, the administrative office said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan S. Rubin in Washington at jrubin@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com

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