Connecticut Criminal Courts Are Open Again
March 13, 2020 was not any ordinary Friday the 13th. It was more than an unlucky day. It was the last day of regular court functions for months to come as the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning. A few days before Connecticut's judicial branch issued an order partially closing courts for two weeks, limited only to "Priority 1" business.
Most criminal appearances do not qualify as Priority 1 (which are mostly custodial arraignments, domestic violence arraignments and matters involving fundamental rights). Discussions with prosecutors, pre-trials, program applications, discovery requests and more are done in person in court--usually in the morning at all courts--and often continued four or more weeks to the next appearance. With criminal business restricted, most cases were being continued automatically by judicial to phantom dates only to be continued again.
On March 13 I had a first appearance for a VOP (violation of probation) in Milford. We kicked it out to the end of April, figuring that might be enough time to "flatten the curve" and be back to normal court business. That afternoon I had a juvenile trial in Middletown (which I found out a couple weeks later, in a written decision, that my client and I had won). That was the last typical day of court. In the following months, as cases were continued and dockets backed up, judicial unrolled remote pretrials, disposition dockets for program cases and some other ways to move cases. Certain courts allowed defense attorneys and prosecutors to hold their own discussions and put cases on the docket with agreements.
After five months, criminal courts are back to handling routine cases. Starting Monday August 10, criminal courts in every judicial district are calling in 25 defendants each day for a 2pm afternoon docket. Mornings will still be for Priority 1 matters and defendants in custody. I was called into Milford for one of my cases that had been continued into September (the 2pm dockets will be cases that are pulled forward--a reverse continuance). The judge called all the cases on the list, not unlike a jury call or short calendar, and then each case went on the record. I'll be in Meriden on Thursday for a 2pm case as well.
We don't yet know when trials will resume or all locations will reopen or really much more than what's currently happening. For now though, we're going back to court. Those continuances couldn't last forever.