The information below is current as of May 18, 2020. This is a continually evolving topic, so please check back for more current information.
Life before the COVID-19 pandemic seems like ages ago. On March 17, 2020, Monterey County ordered all residents to “shelter-in-place” and only leave home for essential needs. The current “shelter-in-place” order in Monterey County is in effect until May 31, 2020. Of course, the order may be extended.
In Monterey County, all criminal cases are heard at the Salinas courthouse. As of May 18, 2020, the Salinas Courthouse is closed to the public, with very limited exceptions. The Monterey County Superior Court is requiring essential parties to appear remotely (via videoconferencing technology) if possible. Essential parties are being admitted into the courthouse only if they cannot appear remotely. Initially, only a few felony cases were being heard in the courthouse. However, as of April 20, 2020, the court has expanded the types of hearings being conducted to include misdemeanor arraignments. The court has also been conducting other misdemeanor hearings, mostly through the use of remote technology.
What does this mean for your Monterey County DUI, or other misdemeanor case? If you have an arraignment (the initial hearing before the court where you enter a plea of guilty or not guilty) scheduled on or after April 20, 2020, and you do not have an attorney, you are required to physically go to the Salinas courthouse on the date of your arraignment. However, if you hire a private attorney, that attorney can appear on your behalf, and you will not have appear. If your arraignment has already occurred, then your attorney can (usually) appear without you at future hearings. As discussed below, if you are required for some reason to go to the courthouse, you will need to follow all of the “social distancing” rules discussed below, including wearing a face covering.
According to Emergency Local Rules of Court adopted April 24, 2020, any criminal hearing (except cases alleging murder with special circumstances and cases in which the defendant is currently incarcerated in state prison) can be conducted remotely so long as the defendant consents. According to these emergency rules, a criminal defendant can allow his or her attorney to appear on his or her behalf. Therefore, if you have an attorney, you can have your attorney appear remotely in court without you having to be physically or remotely present.
What about the right to a speedy and public trial? This is currently a huge area of concern both from a constitutional and a safety perspective. Under California Penal Code Section 1382, a defendant who invokes his or her right to a speedy trial is supposed to have a trial within 30 days of arraignment (in misdemeanor cases when the defendant is in custody), 45 days (in misdemeanor cases when the defendant is out of custody), or 60 days (in felony cases). However, the COVID-19 pandemic has suspended these rights. On March 23, 2020, the California Supreme Court suspended and continued all jury trials for 60 days. The California Supreme Court also extended the normal 30/45/90 day timeframes by an additional 30 days.
On May 8, 2020, Monterey County Superior Court announced that jury trials will resume as of June 1, 2020. However, it is certainly possible that this may change as the pandemic develops.
According to the current Monterey County “shelter in place” order, if you have to go out for essential needs (including if you are required to go to court), you must observe the following social distancing standards:
- Maintaining at least six-foot social distancing from individuals who are not part of the same household or living unit;
- Frequently washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or using hand sanitizer that is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as effective in combatting COVID-19;
- Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or fabric or, if not possible, into the sleeve or elbow (but not into hands);
- Wearing a face covering when out in public, consistent with orders or guidance of the Health Officer;
- Avoiding all social interaction outside the household when sick with a fever or cough.
If you have more questions about how the COVID-19 pandemic impacts your DUI or other cases, you should contact an attorney. We offer free consultations either by phone or virtually during the shelter-in-place order. You can also check the Monterey County Superior Court’s FAQ page
Stay safe and stay healthy!