COVID and the Courts: Continued Restrictions and Plans for Openings
One year after the statewide COVID lockdown brought the administration of justice in New Jersey to a grinding halt, courts still are mostly limited to conducting proceedings remotely. However, in-person proceedings may resume before summer 2021.
In the Federal system, the Chief Judge for District of New Jersey (“D.N.J.”) entered a series of orders which extended many elements of the current restrictions but also set tentative dates for the first steps of resuming in-person proceedings.
As per Standing Order 2021-02, in-person proceedings in the D.N.J. will remain suspended until June 1, 2021. However, in criminal matters, first appearances, arraignments, pleas, and sentencings, shall be held in-person in the meantime if the defendant objects to proceeding remotely. Grand juries shall resume “as normal” (in-person) on April 5, 2021. In the meantime, Grand Juries “shall be limited and convened only to the extent deemed necessary and warranted under the circumstances.”
As per Standing Order 2021-03, video and telephone conferencing of criminal proceedings is extended 90 days form March 11 to June , 2021. Certain enumerated criminal proceedings may occur remotely if the defendant consents. Felony pleas and sentencings may proceed remotely with the defendant’s consent In individual cases where the court makes specific findings that further delay would seriously harm the interests of justice.
As per Standing Order 2021-04, all civil and criminal trials and jury selections are continued to June 1, 2021. The intervening period is deemed “excluded time” for purposes of the Speedy Trial Act and the requirement that, for defendants charged by complaint, the Government must file an Indictment or information within 30 days. Grand Juries are limited and convened only as deemed necessary and warranted until April 5, 2021, when Grand Jury proceedings shall resume as normal. The orders do not affect discovery or filing deadlines, or applicable statues of limitations periods.
In the State court system, beginning May 17, 2021, jury selection may potentially proceed in-person and continue to in-person trials. The current plan of the Administrative Office of the Courts is dependent on the continued favorable trend of COVID statistics.