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The Impact of The Coronavirus on New York Federal and State Cases and Inmates

As of March 24, 2020, the recent outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has sickened over 400,000 people and taken the life of nearly 17,000 – with these numbers rising dramatically every day. It has changed the way we live, how we interact with others, and how businesses operate. It also has caused a myriad of temporary changes in both the federal and New York State criminal justice systems. We have continued to monitor these developments of the pandemic as they affect new arrests, pending cases, and inmates who may be eligible for early release. If you have any questions concerning how the coronavirus has affected a loved one’s arrest or term of incarceration, do not hesitate to contact us for a free consultation.

How Has COVID-19 Impacted New Arrests?

Desk Appearance Tickets (DATs) require for an individual to be arraigned by a judge before he or she may be released unless an individual is issued a DAT or summons upon arrest for a misdemeanor or felony. While bail is not required for most non-violent criminal offenses pursuant to the new bail reform laws, courts are still processing new arrests and arraignments. Further, in New York City, defendants are not being produced by the Department of Corrections to appear physically in court because of the virus. Instead, the arraignments occur by video, with the defendant in custody and the prosecutor, defense attorney and judge together in the courtroom.

Federal Arrests in the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York

New arrests, either via criminal complaint or indictment, are still being processed by federal magistrate judges. In the Southern District of New York, all essential criminal case operations are occurring at the courthouses at 500 Pearl Street in Manhattan and 300 Quarropas Street in White Plains – and are limited only to new arrests, arraignments, bail appeals and emergency matters. While defendants are still being produced in person, in multi-defendant cases no more than two defendants are permitted to appear at once and attorneys may appear by telephone to be in compliance with CDC recommendations. In the Eastern District of New York, new arrests are presently proceeding as normal, however, entry in to the courthouses is severely restricted.

Pending Cases in New York and Coronavirus’ Impact

Most New York City courthouses (New York, Kings, Queens, Bronx and Richmond Counties) remain open at this time, however, operations are limited to just essential functions. For criminal cases, some of these includes emergency applications and requests for orders of protection. While you should check with your attorney, most court appearances and all upcoming jury trials are being adjourned.

Time limits for the commencement of actions and the filing of motions have been extended in most cases to April 19, 2020 by Gov. Cuomo. Notably, this means that prosecutors do not appear to be required to indict a non-bailed felony defendant within 120 hours of arrest (or 144 hours in the case of an intervening weekend or holiday) as they are normally would need to pursuant to CPL § 180.80.  This permits prosecutors to leave defendants in prison while they determine how and when to present their cases to the grand jury.

Federal Cases in the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York

Officially, both the Southern and Eastern District Courthouses remain open for business. In practice, however, the decision as to how to proceed is up to the presiding judge. In both districts, courthouse entry is restricted – for both defendants and attorneys – to those who are healthy and have not come in contact with any individual infected with Coronavirus. Cases are proceeding both in person and by teleconference. In the Eastern District, speedy trial time has been extended to April 27, 2020 and in both, new criminal jury trials have been curtailed.

Incarcerated Individuals

There are presently multiple applications pending for the release of both state and federal inmates who may be especially at risk of death or serious complication due to the spread of COVID-19. As of March 24, 2020, 38 inmates at the Rikers Island jail complex have tested positive for the virus, as well as multiple employees.  Thankfully, in the state and city facilities, reports exist of inmates being released already who are elderly or sick – but these decisions are being made by corrections officers.

If you have a loved one who is housed at a New York State or City facility and you are concerned that they might be at high risk of death or complication due to age or an underlying health complication, contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman immediately.

For federally housed inmates, where visitation for both family members and lawyers has been curtailed at all BOP run facilities, inmates have not started being released as of yet. However, calls exist for the release of inmates who present a low-risk of re-offending. Recently, an inmate at Brooklyn’s notorious Metropolitan Detention Center has already tested positive for the virus. Instead of waiting for law makers and the BOP to take action, however, certain at-risk federal inmates may be eligible for compassionate release. To determine if your family member or loved one qualifies, please contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman immediately.