During these uncertain times, I have been flooded with a lot of questions from both colleagues and clients regarding the closing of courts. First, any closing of the courts is generally a decision left up to each individual court. In my home state – Ohio, we have Federal District Courts – handling federal crimes, State Courts – typically handling felony level crimes, Municipal Court – typically handling misdemeanor level crimes, and even Mayors Courts – which handle minor traffic and city ordinance violations. The decision to close a court belongs to that each individual court. Most of the courts that I practice in have been very proactive and have wisely reset in-court appearances. Many have converted in-court appearances to attorney phone conferences. It is important for the attorney to contact the court and the prosecutor to confirm that a client does not need to appear in court. If necessary, I recommend filing a continuance of the case or a motion to waive the client’s appearance in court. Bottom line, we need to protect clients against having bench warrants issued due to their non-appearance in court. Also, be sure to stay in contact with the client and obtain alternative contact numbers for them or their relatives, should their phone numbers or addresses change.
Many clients have asked me whether they still need to report to their probation or parole officers. The simple answer is YES! Remind those clients that the Covid-19 virus does NOT have the power to terminate their probation or parole – only the court has that power. I have been advising clients to call their probation or parole officers, and to leave a message if they are not available. Also to document the time of the message and who they spoke with. These seemingly small details will surely help – if (and when) things start to go sideways with the PO.
Lastly, for those clients who are on the sex offender or arson registry, it is critical to continue to report as instructed. Once again, if the registration office is closed – call and document your contact efforts by email or saved text message. Once again, the bottom line here for clients, is to protect themselves from stressed out probation/parole officers and sheriffs who would happily lock them up for missing one meeting – Covid-19 concerns or not. Good luck!