There are no breaks from chaos in 2020, as the ongoing pandemic rallies into hurricane season. The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season officially began on June 1 and ends November 30. While Palm Beach County residents have begun to stock up on hurricane supplies, our staff at Casanova Law has planned for the active hurricane season by storing case files in safe locations, saving electronic copies of all documents, and communicating with the government about earlier – and more favorable – resolutions to cases. We are also continuing telephonic consultations and video conferencing. Our goal is to put our clients at ease about their criminal, DUI, traffic or immigration case.
Beyond our proactive steps to preserve the safety and constitutional rights of our clients, we want our clients to stay informed about the current rules from our state and local governments that may affect their case. Below are some of the most important rules of administration that began with COVID-19 and will likely continue through hurricane season.
- Speedy trial is tolled. A defendant in any criminal proceeding has a constitutional right to speedy trial. In misdemeanor cases, this means a case must resolve or go to trial within 90 days of the arrest. For felonies, speedy trial runs at 175 days. Non-criminal traffic cases must be litigated within 180 days. Notwithstanding the rules, due to the coronavirus the Florida Supreme Court has tolled (meaning suspended or paused) speedy trial through July 20, 2020 in a series of emergency administrative orders. This means that the speedy trial clock has essentially stopped and cases without a waiver of speedy trial are delayed without prejudice to the government. As of the date of this article, it is unclear whether the current date for resuming speedy trial will be extended on the basis of the continuing threat of COVID-19. Regardless of the pandemic-based decision, speedy trial could be tolled due to a state of emergency if a hurricane threatens our state.
- Jury trials are suspended in Palm Beach County. All criminal (and civil) jury trials, jury selection proceedings, and grand jury proceedings are suspended until July 17, 2020. The accused who are ready to present their case to a jury of their peers must unfortunately wait to have their day in court. As with the order suspending speedy trial, it is unclear whether the July 17th date will be extended due to either COVID-19 or the threat of a storm.
- USCIS offices have reopened, but on a limited basis. For those with immigration cases, the good news is that United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has reopened some field offices and asylum offices. This means that applicants awaiting interviews may finally be scheduled (or rescheduled, in the case of immigrants who faced cancelled appointments during the pandemic). As expected, face-to-face services at USCIS will require the interviewee to wear a face mask and have no symptoms of COVID-19. For matters not involving interviews, such as application processing, things appear to be the same – or maybe even slightly better! The closures caused by the coronavirus did not stop USCIS officers from processing applications. In fact, we have seen an increase in processed applications, perhaps because the officers have a little more time on their hands. The impact of a hurricane on USCIS policies and procedures will likely mirror the steps taken in response to the virus.
- Travel bans are still in effect. In a series of executive orders, the Trump administration has banned travel from certain countries with heightened COVID-19 numbers. The most recent country to be added to the list is Brazil. Moreover, there is a general 60-day travel ban applicable to noncitizens still in effect until later this month, and that temporary ban could be extended. In Florida, new travel restrictions may arise from an impending storm.
- “Non-essential” hearings continue to be held remotely or reset by the courts. The combination of COVID-19 with hurricane season is a recipe for continued remote hearings on “non-essential” criminal matters for the foreseeable future. “Non-essential” has been defined as traffic tickets and criminal pre-trial hearings that do not involve bond motions or pleas (for example, case dispositions and status checks). Non-essential court hearings in Palm Beach County have been conducted through Zoom.
Our community has faced unprecedented challenges in light of the novel coronavirus. Before we could take a breath from COVID-19, hurricane season mercilessly arrived, with scientists predicting an active season. While we cannot control natural forces, we can prepare for them. At Casanova Law, we are prepared. Our clients will continue to receive superior representation in a manner that is safe. We urge our clients to continue checking in with us about case updates and the impact of hurricane season and COVID-19 on their case. We will get through this together, and we will come out of this stronger than ever.
Casanova Law, P.A.
8461 Lake Worth Rd, Ste 243
Lake Worth, FL 33467