Miami-Dade Courts Go Virtual Amid COVID-19 Fears

COVID-19 is changing a whole lot of things right about now. It’s changed how my daughter is educated, for one thing. That’s not all it’s done, though. It’s also changed our criminal justice system, sometimes in ways we don’t particularly care for.

Yet in Miami, they seem to be trying to use technology to balance concerns about the spread of disease with the need to have a functioning court system. They’re gearing up for virtual courts.

Judges and staff who work in the Miami-Dade court system are getting trained on how to run virtual hearings as the new coronavirus impacts courtroom proceedings.

Eleventh Circuit Court Judge Nushin Sayfie told Local 10’s Christina Vazquez all court trials have been postponed until at least Friday, April 17 with the expectation that date will be extended, but emergency and mission-critical proceedings will go on using remote technology.

All arraignments are being reset. For in-custody defendants, the cases are being screened by the State and the Defense and addressed on a case-by-case basis. The in-custody arraignments will be heard, as well as arraignments for out-of-custody, unrepresented defendants. For out-of-custody defendants that are represented by counsel, these cases are being reset for a future status hearing date.

In order to stop the spread of COVID-19, court locations have been closed to the public except for those individuals participating in emergency or mission-critical proceedings. The Eleventh Judicial Circuit reported in a COVID-19 advisory that remote technology would be used “unless a presiding judge determines that an in-person court appearance is required. Persons required to attend in person should maintain six-feet of social distance from one another.”

No, this isn’t the same thing as a full trial, but that’s really not an option right now. As I noted when I spoke with Cam on Cam & Company, part of the outbreak here in Albany, Georgia came from a juror on a murder trial who was infected. I understand not having trials.

But there are other court proceedings that need to be held.

Thanks to technology, there’s really no reason why these hearings have to be done with everyone in the same room. Sure, it made sense back when it wasn’t feasible to do it any other way, but those days are long in our past. Sure, they’ll probably go back to the old way of doing things, but for the time being, technology has made it so these people can get at least some of their legal proceedings handled.

Frankly, this is a lot more productive than what many jurisdictions seem to be doing.

Of course, this doesn’t preclude the courts form also doing all kinds of stupid stuff via these remote proceedings. This is a large urban center, after all. Never underestimate just how stupid officials in urban centers can be. Especially don’t say anything about how they can’t get dumber. They take it as a challenge, apparently.

Regardless, this is a good thing to see and it’ll be interesting to see how this works in the long run. Will this become the new norm, or just an emergency backup in case of another plague?