The federal courts are tackling the coronavirus threat, making scheduling changes, encouraging electronic filing, and restricting access to facilities, among other measures.
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This Week’s Updates
Criminal Defendants, Corrections Staff Test Positive in EDNY
Posted: Monday, April 6
Seven criminal defendants and 15 staff members have tested positive for Covid-19 throughout three detention facilities under the jurisdiction of the Eastern District of New York, according to reports posted the judicial district’s website.
Staff members at each of the three facilities have their temperature tested daily and are undergoing enhanced screening procedures. At the Queens Detention Facility, staff who decline to undergo the enhanced health screening are denied entry to the facility.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons operates two facilities, and staff at those Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan locations have been asked to fill out a health screening form in addition to having their temperature taken when they arrive to work.
Inmates who present Covid-19 symptoms, such as a cough or a fever, are being isolated from the rest of the population, the wardens told the EDNY on April 4 in the first of their court-ordered twice-weekly reports. Updated information will be submitted Tuesdays and Thursdays and posted to the EDNY’s website for public review.
Media, Public Get More Access to Criminal Trials
Posted: Friday, April 3
The public and the media will have remote access to certain criminal proceedings during the coronavirus crisis, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said April 3.
The new measures expand upon previous guidance that allowed media and the public to view civil proceedings by video during the outbreak, the administrative office said in a press release.
While the proceedings will be made available press and the public though teleconference or video conference, they will not be live streamed or broadcast. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 53 prohibits the broadcast of criminal proceedings, the AO said.
Trial Courts File Orders to Protect Inmates
Posted: Thursday, April 2
District courts are using a few different approaches to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in prisons.
Chief Judge Roslynn Mauskopf of the Eastern District of New York April 2 ordered the wardens of three detention facilities to submit written status reports on Covid-19 testing, positive results, and any mitigation efforts the wardens have undertaken to control the spread of the disease among inmates and staff.
The order applies to the Metropolitan Detention Center Brooklyn, the Metropolitan Correctional Center New York, and the Queens Detention Facility which must file the twice-weekly reports with the court, the New York’s federal public defenders’ office, the U.S. Attorneys’ offices for the Eastern and Southern districts of New York, and the U.S. Marshals for the EDNY and the SDNY.
All reports will be posted publicly on the EDNY’s website, Mauskopf said. The court is based in Brooklyn.
The Northern District of Texas also issued an order April 2 giving non-violent defendants who have been ordered to voluntarily surrender to a Bureau of Prisons facility before May 1 a 60-day extension in an effort to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 spreading in those facilities.
Chief Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn, who wrote the order, said the court recognized “the serious health risk posed to staff and to those incarcerated in federal correctional institutions by the introduction and spread of COVID-19 into the confines of these institutions.” Lynn sits in Dallas.
Judiciary Urges Courts to Search for, Donate Supplies
Posted: Wednesday, April 1
Federal courts nationwide were called upon by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to search their buildings for medical supplies after two trial courts in Florida found and donated much-needed respirator masks and gloves.
The Northern District of Florida rediscovered its stockpile of 1,200 N95 respirator masks after court workers remembered they’d been purchased to protect employees from potential anthrax attacks, the administrative office said April 1 in a press statement announcing the discovery and contribution.
That call has already lead to more discoveries. The District of New Mexico on April 1 announced it was in the process of donating “450 N95 masks, plus hundreds of gloves, boxes of paper gowns, and other needed items like goggles and procedure masks” to hospitals.
Forms Ease Filing for Teleconferencing Consent
Posted: Tuesday, March 31
At least two district courts have posted fillable forms that criminal defendants can use to consent to remote hearings during the crisis.
The CARES Act empowered federal trial courts to conduct certain criminal pre-trial proceedings such as bail hearings, arraignments, and pleas and sentencing hearings, by video or telephonic conference. A number of judicial districts have issued general standing orders in recent days invoking this power and instructing judges and counsel to coordinate further.
The Eastern District of Tennessee -- which has four locations including Knoxville and Chattanooga -- posted a fillable PDF for use by criminal defense counsel, which streamlines the court’s review process. The forms contain check-boxes by which a defendant may select those hearings to which they consent to remotely appear.
The Western District of New York has posted fillable PDFs with which its individual judges may find that a defendant has consented to remote appearance for hearings. The order contains a space where specific factual circumstances may be described that will allow defendants to appear by telephone, rather than by video conference.
The district, which has courthouses in Buffalo and Rochester, publicly posted those forms so that defendants may submit a proposed order agreeing to remote proceedings that a judge then need only to sign and date, the court’s clerk’s office told Bloomberg Law by phone March 31.
—With assistance from Christina Brady, Perry Cooper, and Jordan Rubin
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