Not long after publishing our most recent update on Coronavirus and NC Courts, the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court issued Emergency Directives supplementing prior Orders regarding court operations.
Most notably, Justice Beasley in her Order:
- Clarifies there will not be Jury Trials in North Carolina likely through at least the end of September 2020; and,
- Mandates face masks in all courthouses by all persons.
As stated in our last NC Courts Update, defense attorneys continue to experience a patchwork quilt of different local procedures and policies relative to courtroom safety protocols.
North Carolina Courts began opening-up in June, allowing for more proceedings mandating in-person attendance.
Lawyers in some jurisdictions are provided shields between counsel tables, the bench, and witness areas, while others encounter little to no substantive difference to pre-COVID-19 operations.
Chief Justice Beasley, citing a catastrophic Coronavirus outbreak, notes in her Emergency Directive 21 dated July 16, 2020:
[D]ozens of court personnel have contracted COVID-19 and numerous courts have been forced to temporarily close. . .
** Speak with your criminal attorney regarding whether your attendance is required for court.
Trial settings and mandatory appearances are subject to change with little to little no advance notice. Courthouses in North Carolina remain open for business.
Attendance in court may be mandatory for certain legal matters, calendar calls, administrative hearings, and trials in different jurisdictions.
Mecklenburg County District Court trial proceedings for many criminal charges, including DWI charges in Charlotte, simple assault, and other non-domestic violence matters, are presently being continued to a date in the future.
That is not necessarily true in neighboring districts such as Gaston County (Gastonia), Monroe, in Union County, and Iredell County district court (Statesville / Mooresville NC).
No jurisdiction in North Carolina is presently authorized to conduct Jury Trials due to safety concerns for members of the general public subject to jury duty and service as a juror during either civil or criminal trials in Superior Court.
Until the Chief Justice’s Order on July 16, 2020, some litigants “masked up,” some didn’t.
Similarly, some law enforcement and clerks wore masks, others refused to do so.
The Emergency Directive sets forth in relevant part:
All persons who are in a court facility are required to wear a face covering while they are in common areas of the facility and when they are interacting with others – Emergency Directive 21
Are NC Courts High Risk?
National media today reports North Carolina as one of the “sunbelt states” experiencing a substantial increase in COVID-19 diagnoses and hospitalizations.
While clearly an anecdotal observation, it’s fair to say a certain percentage of the population of North Carolina don’t like complying with mask regulations and therefore don’t, even when in court.
Everyone is required to wear masks when in the court facility; yet, some insist on not covering their nose, sliding down masks when talking, closely congregating in groups outside courtrooms, and outright removing masks in narrow hallways, bathrooms, elevators, and stairwells.
To his credit, just this morning I saw and heard a District Court Judge instruct an attorney going ‘nose out’ to step back from the bench and put his mask on properly. At the same time, the Clerk had her nose uncovered, vitiating the point of wearing a mask – Bill Powers, NC DWI Lawyer
Compliance with the mask ruling by the Supreme Court remains problematic, particularly in enforcement.
Courtroom deputies may or may not be interested in mask enforcement once courthouse visitors enter the facilities.
As such, despite the Chief Justice’s concerns and specific directives, your chance of exposure to the Coronavirus in criminal court may depend on the jurisdiction, the courthouse facility itself, and compliance by everyone in the facility including Clerks of Court, Law Enforcement, Probation, Attorneys, and the general public.
There remain substantial concerns regarding compliance and thefore exposure issues while in court. Judges sit on a bench, generally away from the public and even clerks. Lawyers often are in close-contact with clients and other court personnel – Bill Powers, Charlotte Criminal Defense Attorney
Can I get my case continued?
Until such time as there is a cure for the Coronavirus, it seems likely that we will be living with and limiting exposure to the sometimes deadly disease.
If you have unique Coronavirus health concerns or questions regarding whether attendance in court is mandatory or may be handled by a Waiver of Appearance, we strongly recommend you retain a defense attorney.
Our lawyers are available for an immediate consultation on both felony and misdemeanor criminal charges, including DWI / DUI charges, drug charges, and Assault on a Female / DVPO Domestic Violence Protective Orders and DV – Domestic Violence charges.
Call NOW: 704-342-4357
There is no consultation for criminal charges.
The firm ordinarily sets forth a True Retainer to secure the availability of the firm and attorneys for legal representation. A True Retainer is distinct from legal fees and is earned immediately.
Family law matters, including DV-related 50B matters, ordinarily include a Conflict Check, True Retainer, hourly rates, and consultation fees.