In the United States, we take immense pride in our criminal justice process and wholly depend on our constitutional rights to ensure justice and objectivity when facing accusations and criminal charges. It is a common rationale that nobody, not even the government, can strip from us those rights guaranteed by the Constitution; however, there are certain circumstances in life that can affect those rights, and the COVID-19 pandemic is one of those events currently having a negative impact on our Sixth Amendment rights.
How am I to appear in public?
Before COVID-19 hit the U.S., appearing in public places was not really considered a luxury. Now, though, the threat of this virus has placed more burden on us than just limiting our holiday gatherings and restricting our ability to see movies in the theater. With a long-standing backlog in criminal courts and new, ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions, court administrators are grappling with how to keep up with cases while also ensuring our Sixth Amendment right to a public proceeding. Appearing in public for a hearing is one of our nation’s bedrock principles. Anything that interferes with that is a major issue with which to contend, in addition to fighting criminal charges and accusations you may face. To combat the restrictions on our courts and public assembly, many judges have turned to live-streaming hearings, including creating dedicated YouTube channels and Zoom meetings. Of course, as we’re all aware by now, these virtual hearings come with their own set of complications, including hackers and technological interruptions. Who doesn’t love a good laugh at someone forgetting their mic is on during an inopportune time? But when it comes to fighting criminal charges, these technological issues are no laughing matter, especially when they interfere with the very foundations of our criminal justice system.
What does speedy mean in the era of COVID-19?
Another aspect of our Sixth Amendment right on which COVID-19 is wreaking havoc goes hand-in-hand with a public trail, and that is your right to a speedy trial. As mentioned, and widely reported, court systems are overburdened with a backlog of cases. Fighting for your Sixth Amendment right to an expedited hearing was a battle to fight prior to COVID-19. It’s now more important than ever to have an experienced attorney in your corner to ensure your rights are upheld in the chaos of COVID restrictions on our courts. In the State of Texas, speedy, in court terms, is generally held to be eight months, as a minimum. This, of course, is provided your attorney files on your behalf a speedy trial motion and consistently maintains your position that you would like to proceed forward with trial. Executive orders and any gubernatorial orders that relegate the performance of our court systems weigh heavily on the ticking of that speedy trial clock and can definitely work to your disadvantage. You must have an experienced attorney to reassert your Sixth Amendment rights, even if the judge overseeing your proceeding appears to be powerless as a result of city, county, or state restrictions related to the pandemic.
What about my right to confront those accusing me?
If we’re concerned with public gatherings, travel, and the ability to appear in public hearings, it is only logical that our right to confront those with evidence against us is also in jeopardy, along with the other guarantees of the Sixth Amendment mentioned here. In addition to who can appear in our courts during a pandemic and how, we’re also left contemplating how safety measures affect our right to face our accusers. How will a judge, jury, witnesses, and attorneys wearing a mask challenge our Sixth Amendment right to a confrontation? Could this be the veil of secrecy about which our forefathers warned us when fighting to ensure our rights? What safety protocols can survive our constitutional rights? These questions have left our legal scholars scrambling for answers, so you certainly shouldn’t be left alone to contemplate and ensure your rights.
While governors’ orders and safety restrictions may be at odds with our Constitution, we know that removing the right to a confrontation and a speedy, public trial would, in fact, require a constitutional amendment. Until then, the court systems place the burden on you to ensure your rights are upheld and justice is within fair reach throughout your proceedings, even during a pandemic. There’s absolutely no reason for you to ever wage that war on your own.
At Peek & Toland, we’d love to help you take control of your criminal proceedings and ensure that every right afforded to you is met in abundance. Please tune into our updates every Friday and follow us on social media for up-to-date information concerning your rights and how we can fight on your behalf.