In letter to John L. Miller, Chief Judge for First Judicial Circuit, the Society of the Criminal Defense Bar asks that the court system return to Phase 1.
The society pointed out that at least two assistant state attorneys are currently self-isolating due to direct exposure to the coronavirus.
At least one of the group’s members tested positive for coronavirus this week, and is currently hospitalized: “Over the past few week several of our members have had to self-isolate due to exposure to positive clients or family members, or because they developed COVID related symptoms.”
The society argued that the court system and Escambia County don’t meet the guidelines for reopening the courtrooms.
“Overall, it is our impression that Escambia and Santa Rosa no longer meet the benchmarks for Phase 2 operation,” wrote the group. “We respectfully request that the Court provide the public with an analysis of where Escambia and Santa Rosa counties currently stand regarding the five benchmarks, similar to the break down contained in the June 4, 2020 administrative order.”
The attorneys said that they requested the Court two weeks ago that out-of-custody non-adversarial hearings, such as docket days and plea days, be held remotely in order to limit appearances in court. They received no response.
“There are now outbreaks of COVID-19 cases in the Escambia County Jail, the Santa Rosa County Jail, and the Walton County Jail,” wrote the society. “Without defendants appearing in court the majority, if not all, adversarial or evidentiary hearings cannot be held. Bench trials cannot be held. There are currently no jury trials. Short of a plea, little is being done on a case at docket days and plea days.”
They added, “Practically speaking, at this point we are only handling essential proceedings on our cases, yet we are constantly being called into courtrooms throughout both counties for non-essential proceedings.
“Based upon the current surge of COVID-19 cases in our community and in our jails, we respectfully recommend a return to Phase 1 operations until this surge subsides. We would not be the first county in the State of Florida to make such a decision.”