As detailed in a previous post, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to impact different courts in different ways. The following applies to matters in the Brockton District Court, however, I expect that many of the other courts in the Commonwealth will take similar positions in the coming weeks.
On June 3, 2020 about 80 people were on a Zoom conference with leaders from the Brockton District Court to discuss how the court plans on handling cases going forward. Below are the highlights:
Arraignments: Arraignments will continue to be done via telephone until the court re-opens to the public. Those that are able to post bail at the police station will likely still receive court dates in the future as opposed to the next business day.
Custody Pre-Trials: Defendants who are in custody will continue to have their cases heard every 30 days via PolyCom, which is the video conferencing system used by the various jails and prisons in Massachusetts. Priority will be given to those that are being held on bail as opposed to those that are serving sentences. These cases will be given a time to be heard on the morning of the court date.
Non-Custody Pre-Trials: Defendants who are not is custody will have pre-trial dates via telephone. These hearings will occur starting at 10:00 AM and the defendant’s presence will be waived.
Non-Evidentiary Motions: Motions that do not require evidence will be allowed to occur via telephone or Zoom. The defendant will be given the credentials to call in so they can observe these motions.
Evidentiary Motions: For the time being, motions that require evidence will be limited to Dangerousness Hearings. All others will be given further dates until the court re-opens to the public or technology allows us to proceed virtually.
Pleas: A plea can occur virtually as long as neither party is seeking to put someone who is not in custody in custody. This means that if the Defendant is out on bail the plea cannot take place is the prosecutor is seeking jail time. However, if the prosecutor is seeking probation, the plea may take place.
Bench Trials: Bench trials may occur virtually or once the court re-opens. However, for a virtual bench trial to occur, the Defendant and the prosecutor must agree. If the prosecutor does not agree to a bench trial then the matter must be scheduled for a jury trial once the court re-opens to the public.
Jury Trials: The Brockton District Court has plans in place to allow it to hold jury trials starting on September 8, 2020. However, this date is subject to change based on orders from the governor and the SJC.
Probation Surrender Hearings: Probation hearings may occur virtually as long as neither party is seeking to place a person in custody who is not currently in custody.
While the plan remains to open the court to the public in July, the re-opening is still subject to change based on further orders from the SJC and the governor. However, once the court re-opens we can expect temperature checks for all people entering the building as well as limitations on the number of people in each courtroom. Because of this, it is safe to assume that virtual hearings will continue for some matters even once the building re-opens.