COVID has created a lot of disruptions in normal day to day life. The Judicial Branch has also been struggling with trying to balance the need to achieve the speedy and just administration of criminal cases along with limiting the size of crowds in the court to reduce the potential for the spread of COVID. Many defendants want to get their cases over quickly as having a case pending can affect job searches, immigration matters and is generally a significant stress factor. COVID has created a lot of delays in the criminal justice system in 2020 and this trend looks to continue into 2021. This has lead to many cases being continued multiple times and many clients being frustrated with not being able to resolve their pending criminal matter in a timely manner.
It should be noted that the criminal court system has been functioning at some level continuously throughout the COVID pandemic. At first, during the months of April and May, only domestic violence arraignments and priority one business matters were being heard. In late June the scope of matters handled was expanded to include all types of pending criminal cases. (It should be noted that the DMV is proceeding with virtual hearings on administrative per se license suspension appeals in DUI cases). The Judicial Branch has also been facilitating remote virtual judicial pre-trials which have been very useful to help resolve more complex cases.
Batch File Designation Assignment
In June the Judicial Branch started a system where cases would be assigned to a batch file assignment and called in for an in-person court hearing within 10 days to 2 weeks. Many clients were surprised as their cases were previously continued out a couple of months into the future and suddenly they would receive a call from our office letting them know that the matter was called in for an earlier date. It appears that the “batch file” program is coordinated centrally in Hartford and the criteria that they use in selecting the cases is unknown as of this writing.
Since June, we have been appearing almost daily in G.A. criminal courts throughout Connecticut on these batch file assignments and, as a result, we have been able to resolve a lot of cases during the last few months. Apparently, the Judicial Branch’s objective is to limit the number of cases in the courtroom so that people can spread out in the courthouse and maintain social distancing as much as possible. For the most part, the system has worked well, although due to capacity limitations only a few cases can be addressed per day.
What Does the Batch File Program Mean for You?
When a case is selected for “batch file” designation and it will be given a hearing date about 10 to 14 days in the future. In some situations, we have received as little as 7 days of advance notice. It is usually not possible to obtain a continuance of these hearing assignments absent unusual circumstances (such as medical conditions or COVID quarantine).
The only notice you are going to get about your court dates is a mailed notice from the clerk’s office. If you fail to appear at the hearing a re-arrest may issue against you for failure to appear. For this reason, it is important that you make sure that the clerk’s office has your most recent and up to date mailing address. Also, make sure that you promptly notify your lawyer of any change in address or phone number. Check with your lawyer before you make any extended vacation plans and supply your lawyer with a copy of your trip itinerary.
Some Criminal Courts Remain Closed
Be sure to carefully check the notice your receive. As many G.A. courts remain closed (e.g. G.A. #20 Norwalk and G.A. # 5 Derby) your case may be held at another location. Norwalk cases are being heard in Stamford G.A. #1 as the Norwalk Court remains closed until further notice.
It can be very frustrating to wait for several months to get a court date and then only get a few day’s notice that you have to appear in Court. To respond to the new batch file system we have started to get more proactive on all of our files. We are trying to have all of our files fully prepared and ready to go in the event that any particular case gets called in for a hearing. In this manner, we can take advantage of the situation and try and make progress towards achieving a favorable resolution of our client’s matter.
With vaccines apparently planned to be widely available by this summer the procedure in the criminal court may return to normal in a few months. Until then, the criminal courts are operating with capacity limitations. We are appearing on an almost daily basis in court on behalf of our clients. It is important to take advantage of this time to get criminal files prepared by requesting all outstanding discovery and taking care of any other outstanding issues. If you have any questions about how the batch file program affects your case please feel free to give us a call. Until then, stay healthy and take care.