What can be done about your case during the COVID-19 situation? For one thing, with court closures across the country, most (probably all) district attorney's and solicitor general's offices are working on skeleton crews. This means likely less than half, and probably only a small handful of prosecutors are available to work on cases. In Georgia, per an Order of the Georgia Supreme Court declaring a Judicial Emergency at least through April 13, 2020, only matters deemed essential are being heard. For civil and criminal matters, this includes the following:
- cases where where an immediate liberty or safety concern is present requiring the attention of the court as soon as the court is available;
- criminal court search warrants, arrest warrants, initial appearances, and bond reviews;
- domestic abuse temporary protective orders and restraining orders;
- juvenile court delinquency detention hearings and emergency removal matters; and
- mental health commitment hearings.
In many jurisdictions in the metro Atlanta area, it is not unusual for the prosecutor to carry a pretty heavy caseload of between 100 and 200 cases. In the city, probate and state courts throughout Georgia, these cases range from minor traffic infraction up accusations of domestic violence and vehicular homicide. In our superior courts, these cases range from relatively small drug possession matters all the way up to prosecuting charges of robbery, rape and murder. But during this time when cases cannot be worked on and disposed of fully, as most motion hearings and jury trials are now suspended, a backlog of cases is building up. And when we are able to get back to work, there will be a ripple effect due this backlog that will be felt for months to come.
As a defense attorney, and a former prosecutor, I know this is the time to work on cases, not slack off. Because when the court system kicks back into gear, prosecutors are going to be under tremendous pressure to move their backlog of cases. Not only for their own sanity, but the judges to whose courtroom they're assigned are going to want to get the calendars back down to a manageable level - a few hundred cases - not thousands of cases to be resolved. This is legal triage for the prosecutor. The fact is, even for the most aggressive prosecutor, not every case can be tried. Our criminal justice system would grind to a halt. A good prosecutor chooses they cases they care about, gets those cases ready for trial, and finds ways to get rid of the rest.
Therefore, for my clients, I am reviewing the evidence and drafting motions to file. I am arming for bear and getting ready to get back to work by having my cases ready to litigate on all plausible and reasonable issues - even the cases that I know won't really go to trial. That way, the prosecutor knows that if they want to move a case with me (and I want them to), they will need to make a real proposal. Perhaps I can't get all my clients' cases dismissed, but I can work on getting lots of charges dismissed and reduced, and pleas with minimal jail and probation time, and small or no fines. The way to get great offers for a client is to always be prepared and ready to try a case. The COVID-19 pandemic doesn't change this fact of defense representation. It just means that, for at least a little while, and maybe a longer while, the resolutions for the accused may be better - far better - than under normal circumstances.