Federal Crimes Blog

Status of Federal Criminal System During COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted by Hedding Law Firm | Jan 11, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed federal criminal practice significantly. One of the biggest things that is being prevented from happening is criminal defendants actually going into the courts.

It's very rare now that you see a defendant being able to appear in court.  Whereas, every other time when there wasn't a pandemic, whenever there was some sort of a court proceeding, I would say 95% of the time, the defendant and the attorney are going to be there.

Video Hearings in Federal Court

The federal judges do not want people in their courtroom.  That's the bottom line I see, so they're using video to conduct hearings.

Status of Federal Criminal System During COVID-19 Pandemic
In order to keep people out of the courtroom, federal judges are now using video to conduct hearings.

Sometimes, if the defendant doesn't agree to a video or if videos are available, that's another huge problem right now, they don't have the capacity to be able to do video conferences.

This is because there's limited video available, and they just ignore all rules and set the case when they want to set the case.  So, it's unbelievable what's going on in the federal system.

I'm hoping that it gets back to normal soon so you can actually conduct business:

  • going into court,
  • arguing motions,
  • doing sentencing live and in person with the judge.

Those days are gone.

Just as I make this post as we creep upon 2021, I think those days will be gone for a while. Until this vaccine takes ahold and some of these older federal judges are satisfied that they're not going to expose themselves to the Coronavirus.

LA Metropolitan Detention Center Inmates Catching Virus

Another thing I can tell you right now is, many people in custody in the federal system are getting the virus.

In MDC, the Metropolitan Detention Center, one of the main facilities to hold people in downtown Los Angeles, 100 inmates were infected just recently.

That just shut things down.  Obviously, nobody wants to move someone around who has Coronavirus.  You don't blame the people who are there in custody.

The system – both the federal court system and federal prison system were not prepared for the pandemic and have not handled it very well at all in my opinion.

It is very difficult to get into federal court and it's also difficult to get on their calendar, even if you're willing to appear via video.

I have a number of cases right now that are on hold while we wait for the clerk to tell us when the judges are available.  They're overrun.

Los Angeles Criminal Courts vs. Federal Courts

When you compare that to the state, who's also overrun with many more cases, in my opinion, they have handled it much more effectively.

In fact, I think in Los Angeles county, since the pandemic, they've only closed the courthouse one day.  Beyond that it's been opened. They're doing preliminary hearings.

They've now started to do trials.  A lot of the cases have been continued so they don't overrun the court and they've had to take certain precautions in order to:

  • protect the public,
  • court staff,
  • judges,
  • prosecutors,
  • public defenders, and
  • even the defense attorneys who are privately retained.

So, I think the state has done a much more effective job than the federal courts.

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I'm hoping the federal courts are able to get back to normal as soon as possible so we can start dealing with some of these cases.

This is especially true for those inmates who are in custody and are awaiting sentencing.

Those who are trying to enter a plea in a case and having to wait until some sort of video system is available, which I don't think is as effective, obviously, as in-person is.

A lot of it is no one's fault.  There's a virus.  It's serious and we were not prepared for this.

I hope moving forward, the federal system prepares themselves for things like this and can figure out how to go back to business as usual.

Hedding Law Firm is a criminal defense law firm located in Los Angeles County at 16000 Ventura Blvd #1208 Encino, CA 91436.

We represent people in California and throughout the United States, including Arizona, Utah, Alabama, Nevada, and Colorado.

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