How COVID-19 is Affecting the Metro-Atlanta Courts:
A Guide to Essential Hearings and Court Practices
As we navigate very uncertain times, like most establishments, the Metro-Atlanta court system is continuing to transform the manner in which they do business. The Supreme Court of Georgia recently issued an order effectively cancelling all non-essential hearings and court appearances. As we traverse this strange scenario, we are still working to determine what “non-essential” actually means. To date, we have learned that almost every courthouse in Georgia has cancelled all trials and calling in potential jurors. They did so to support social distancing and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Thus, we know that all jury trials will be delayed until further notice.
In addition, the courts have cancelled and are in the process of rescheduling all arraignments, motions and compliance dates. However, it is imperative that you or your attorney of record continue to monitor these dates and ensure you do not miss any rescheduled court appearances. Once the courts reopen, there will be a flood of scheduling and immediate court dates. So, don’t get too comfortable in the time off.
Even though the general courts are closed for business, there are still many essential hearings and work taking place. Some of these include:
Temporary Protective and Ex-Parte Orders. For the most part, Judges are still considering Temporary and Ex-Parte Orders. That means those facing stalking, harassment, or the victims of Domestic Violence can still likely appear at their designated courthouse and apply for this protection in front of a judge. Should they find themselves unable or unwilling to travel to court to meet with the presiding judge, the lawyers at Hawkins Spizman can do so on their behalf, and utilize a number of different video conferencing options to assist them in filing for this protection.
Bonds. First appearance or bond calendars are still considered to be essential. If an individual is arrested and charged with a crime, that criminal defendant will still go before a presiding judge within 72 hours of their arrest and have the opportunity to argue for bond or release. The lawyers at Hawkins Spizman have the ability to work closely with prosecutors and judges to secure a reasonable bond and get your loved one released.
Bond Modifications/Bond Reductions. To prevent overcrowding and the spread of COVID-19 in close proximity jails, Judges and Prosecutors are being much more lenient than ever before. They are willing to conduct virtual hearings and discuss modifications and reductions of high bonds over the phone. We can then submit written order to Judge’s chambers to modify bonds. With the spread of COVD-19, we are seeing a unique opportunity to gain some leverage in the release of your family member, friend, or loved one.
Probation Modification/Termination. Now is the perfect time to file a motion to modify or terminate your probation. The court system recognizes it will be overwhelmed with the influx of criminal proceedings. They will also have to reschedule all probation meetings. To ease the pinch on the criminal justice system, courts are now, more than ever, willing to work to modify conditions of probation or even terminate probation early if you and your case qualify. The lawyers at Hawkins Spizman can assist you in filing those motions and reduce your time on probation.
Sentence Modification. The courts are considering early release for those serving longer sentences or those near the end of their sentence. Whether your loved one has been sentenced to the Department of Corrections or a local jail, we are empowered to file motions to modify jail sentences and reduce the spread of COVID-19 within the jail.
New Arrests/Citations/Consults. The lawyers at Hawkins Spizman are still hard at work, virtually meeting with clients, providing case review, and discussing the new cases. We still offer free consultations and are willing to discuss your case at great length and determine next best steps once the courts reopen.
Civil Cases. Most civil courts are still accepting filings, and we are capable of scheduling depositions, mediations, and numerous pretrial hearings with the assigned Judge. There is less of a burden on the civil justice system, since many of these issues can be resolved through virtual meetings. Don’t let your civil case fall by the wayside. Now is the time to deal with outstanding issues and prepare your case for settlement and trial.
While we will eventually return to normalcy in this wildly challenging time, we can look to the opportunity this epidemic offers us. There is certainly work to be done, and the criminal justice system is going to feel the burn as much as anyone else. Thus, use your time and this current state of affairs to leverage an opportunity that might never again exist.