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The Effects of COVID on Criminal Cases in Maricopa County Superior Court

Since March of 2020, pending criminal cases in Maricopa County have changed dramatically in terms of how they are procedurally handled. As a criminal defense attorney with nearly 25 years of experience practicing law, I’ve honestly never seen anything like it. While for years I have said that 1) many hearings are purely administrative and a waste of time and resources, and 2) that many hearings can be done via video while still preserving a defendant’s constitutional rights, it’s insane that a global pandemic caused my predictions to come to fruition.

Non-Appearance Hearings

In almost every felony case that is handled in Maricopa County Superior Court, two hearings are held. The first being an initial pretrial conference (IPTC) and the second being a comprehensive pretrial conference (CPTC). Both of these hearings are ministerial with judges using them as vehicles to make sure that lawyers, particularly criminal defense attorneys are doing their jobs and staying on track.

While this would ordinarily seem like a no brainer, the truth is that many criminal defense attorneys, particularly those appointed by the court do not accomplish the basic tasks that judges expect them to in the early stages of a case. Unfortunately, it is their clients who suffer, particularly if they are sitting in jail on charges such as transportation of marijuana for sale, sexual assault, or complex white collar crimes.

Now, IPTC’s and CPTC’s are being handled on a non-appearance basis. What this means is that so long as lawyers complete checklists that answer the basic questions that the judge would have asked the hearings – had they been held in person – no one needs to appear in open court. The idea behind this, of course, is that the fewer people that need to physically come into the courthouse, the less likely the transmission of COVID.

Video Appearances

Many hearings are also being held via video to keep down the possible transmission of COVID. Judges typically set up secure virtual meeting rooms that are recorded so that an accurate record can be kept. Because criminal court proceedings in Maricopa County Superior Court are presumptively open to the public, others can either log in or dial in to listen to the proceedings. Just like in an in-person proceeding, members of the public cannot speak or interrupt the hearing.

Trials

Many trials have been put on hold for the foreseeable future. While some jury trials have occurred, it’s difficult to find jurors who are willing and able to serve, even though measures have been put in place to make matters as safe as possible in order to prevent the spread of COVID.

While it is undoubtedly frustrating and unfair for someone to sit in custody for what seems like an indefinite basis waiting to go to trial, the truth of the matter is that having a fair trial is worth the wait. The last thing you want to do when your future and freedom are on the line is to bring in jurors who don’t want to be there in the first place and then have them make a decision that will affect you and your loved ones forever.

Get the Help You Deserve

Hiring a lawyer to represent you makes sure that your case gets personalized attention and prevents you from being just a “file” that falls through the cracks of the justice system. Now, more than ever, it’s important to make sure that your criminal defense attorney is fighting to get you the best possible result, even if the system in Maricopa County is functioning in a way that could limit your ability to be properly defended by an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney. We are located just minutes from downtown Phoenix and are still conducting safe and effective confidential consultations. If you are looking to hire a criminal defense attorney for your felony matter in Maricopa County Superior Court, contact us at (602) 663-9100 to set up a socially distanced meeting to discuss your case and what we can do for you.

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