Thanks to the outbreak of COVID-19, otherwise known as the coronavirus, our country—along with the world at large—is in a state of disarray. The necessity of social distancing has shut down restaurants, stores, schools, and more. The changes that we are experiencing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic spread to nearly every facet of our lives, both public and private, and the Rhode Island legal system has not been immune to these changes.
If you have been charged with a crime in Rhode Island, it's important to know the changes that the coronavirus pandemic has brought to the way that the criminal justice system operates.
Changes in Criminal Procedures due to COVID-19
On April 13, 2020, the Rhode Island Supreme Court issued an executive order outlining emergency measures for the legal system, and extending the duration of the emergency procedures until May 17, 2020. The executive order included the following provisions for criminal cases:
- All jury trials shall be continued and will not resume until after May 17, 2020.
- All grand jury proceedings for the Superior Court will be suspended and will resume after May 17, 2020.
An exception to the above-listed changes remains for matters that are determined to be essential or an emergency. The order provides that the following matters will continue during this time:
- Bail petitions.
- Warrant cancellations.
- Temporary restraining order and protection order petitions.
- Arraignments for capital offenses, domestic violence offenses, DUI offenses, and charges stemming from violation of quarantine orders arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 30, the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island issue an amended general order regarding criminal matters during the COVID-19 pandemic. The order is to remain in effect for 90 days unless terminated earlier. If the state of emergency resulting from the coronavirus outbreak continued for more than 90 days, the order could be extended.
The order provided the following changes to the procedures used for criminal cases in the state:
- All criminal hearings that will still move forward during this time—including initial appearances, preliminary hearings, arraignments, and probation/release hearings—will take place by telephone.
- Felony pleas and sentencing hearings will be delayed, or if the hearing cannot be further delayed without serious harm to the interests of justice, it will be conducted by telephone.
While court will not be held in Rhode Island courtrooms, the hearings will still remain open to the public—a person interested in listening to a hearing can contact the Clerk's office to obtain dial-in instructions.
We're Still Here to Help—Contact Us Today
While the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the ways in which we must represent our clients, one thing remains unchanged: our commitment to providing quality representation for our clients. If you need legal assistance during these uncertain times, the team of attorneys at Inman & Tourgee are still standing by to provide the help you need. To speak with a member of our legal team, fill out an online contact form or call (401) 823-9200 today.