With nearly three-quarters of our nation under stay-at-home orders, fears are high amongst Osceola County residents who are wrapped up in the criminal justice system. At Bail 2 GO, we want to reassure everyone that you will not be deprived of your American right to due process during this challenging time.
Since mid-March, the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, which handles cases in Osceola County, is under new orders that affect court dates and appearances. As the state and local court system struggles to navigate the impact of COVID-19 on our community and keep residents safe, new processes are being put in place for first hearings, determining bail for those in custody, criminal arraignments, juvenile detention, and trial court proceedings.
New Court Procedures in Place
Both the Florida Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit have issued orders to minimize the risk of spreading and catching the coronavirus. The full directives are available online under the state-level Administrative Order No. AOSC20-17 and local Administrative Order No. 2020-06-01.
These rules are currently in effect from March 16 through April 17, 2020. However, with the latest federal guidelines recommending closures should continue through April 30, the courts are likely to extend these orders. The rules can also be modified or expanded as necessary at any time.
To protect the health, well-being, and safety of the community, the courts are following guidelines set by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Florida Department of Health. Courthouse hours and activities are limited, and most hearings are converting to an electronic format. Jury trials are also suspended. The goal is to prevent crowds of people being together in small spaces.
“We recognize that minimizing and shifting court operations in this way will have a tremendous impact on our court users,” acknowledged Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Donald A. Myers Jr., who said the system is “working hard to mitigate this impact.”
Temporarily Suspended Court Services
The state order begins with a reminder that the courts are charged with doing everything necessary to “promote the prompt, efficient, and proper administration of justice for Florida citizens.” However, that Constitutional right is currently being balanced with the need to protect the public. As a result, the following court proceedings are suspended until April 17, 2020, or until the public health emergency is under control:
- Upcoming jury trials due to the suspension of jury duty. However, jury trials currently in progress may continue at the judge’s discretion.
- Diversion programs, such as drug, veterans, mental health, and early childhood courts.
- The speedy trial procedure in criminal and juvenile court proceedings until April 20, 2020. The court order instructs defendants who are facing criminal charges and have a speedy trial issue to file a written motion. A courtesy copy is sent to the appropriate Administrative Judge of the Circuit Criminal Division or the Administrative Judge of the County Criminal Division as well as the Chief Judge.
Essential Court Hearings Continue in Osceola County
Electronic Hearings During COVID-19
Hearings that do not require in-person contact will continue without any delays. When possible, many other court hearings are being held electronically through video and phone conferencing. The courts are working hard to make this a quick and smooth transition, but there are many complications to figure out.
The Chief Judge has the authority to determine which procedure will proceed without in-person court appearances. Temporary procedures can be established at any time to improve this process. Under the current order, the following Osceola County criminal court cases will be held electronically:
- Pretrial release and first appearance hearings that address monetary bond, detention, and other conditions of release.
- Juvenile delinquency detention, custody orders, and shelter hearings.
- Detainees arrested in another area to prevent unnecessary travel between communities.
In-Person Hearings During COVID-19
Most criminal court proceedings are moving forward with in-person appearances in Osceola County. Cases that are deemed essential court proceedings will continue to be handled in-person at the courthouse, including those concerning:
- critical issues relating to the state of emergency and the public health emergency, which may involve violations of orders to quarantine, isolate, follow curfews, limit travel, or close buildings.
- First appearances.
- Criminal arraignments.
- Motions to set or modify bail.
The Presiding Judge or Chief Judge may make other arrangements, including electronic hearings, if necessary and appropriate.
COVID-19 Protections for Essential Court Participants
All circuit and county courts are legally required to use every available method to reduce the exposure and spread of COVID-19 among courthouse staff, those involved in the proceedings, and the general community. All activities beyond core court functions are postponed. This includes group meetings, ceremonies, workshops, tours, and community outreach programs. If possible, some of these dates may be rescheduled.
Access to courthouses is restricted to essential staff, which includes:
- Counsel, such as lawyers and public defenders and the State Attorney.
- Court officers, such as clerks and deputies.
- Judges or mediators.
- Approved members of the press.
- Exceptions permitted by the Presiding Judge or Chief Judge.
All parties, witnesses, families, and spectators are banned from attending in-person hearings. A person who has been exposed to COVID19 or is exhibiting symptoms is not allowed to enter the building. Sheriff’s deputies have the authority to screen and remove people.
Bail Bond Options in Osceola County, Florida
These are strange times for the complex Florida court system. Switching to remote platforms will take time and patience. Continue to follow COVID-19 updates on the Ninth Circuit’s website, which also provides more information and instructions on these proceedings. You can also contact the court system directly at (407) 742-2423 or (407) 742-2417 for ADA questions.
Bail 2 GO is here for Osceola County residents who need a criminal court bail bonds agency. Contact our Kissimmee office at (407) 483-7983 to accelerate your bail bond processing and stay notified about your upcoming court dates.