NYC Grand Juries To Return To State Courthouses In August

By Dave Simpson
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Law360 (July 7, 2020, 9:14 PM EDT) -- Grand juries will begin to reconvene in New York City state courts starting on Aug. 10, and some criminal matters that have been heard remotely since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic may soon be heard in person, the New York State Unified Court System announced Tuesday.

Jury summonses will be mailed to prospective jurors in the coming days. And in conjunction with New York City's phase three reopening earlier this week, allowable in-person hearings will expand to include preliminary hearings in cases involving defendants being held in jail on felony complaints, selected plea and sentencing proceedings for defendants at liberty, and arraignments of defendants who have been issued desk appearance tickets, the Empire State court system said in a press release.

During phase three, judges will still try to hold proceedings virtually whenever it is legal and logistically feasible, the court system said.

"Where an in-person proceeding involves an incarcerated individual, that individual shall appear remotely unless otherwise ordered by the assigned judge," it said. "Non-essential matters, criminal proceedings (except as noted), juvenile delinquency proceedings and mental hygiene law proceedings pertaining to a hospitalized adult will continue to be held virtually and heard by the assigned judge."

Mediation will also be conducted virtually, the state said. To reduce foot traffic in the courthouses, court calendars will be staggered. There will be some increases to staffing to account for the increase in in-person hearings. But some staff will continue to work remotely.

Courthouses will continue to require visitors and staff to wear masks and will continue to take steps to create physical distance between people. In addition, courthouses will continue to be regularly sanitized, the state said.

Since the start of the pandemic, the state court system has increased its use of virtual hearings and has also worked to safely expand in-court hearings as it has been deemed safe, it said.

"Since mid-March, New York City's Criminal Court has conducted nearly 19,000 arraignments, held over 34,000 other criminal proceedings and conducted nearly 600 preliminary hearings in felony matters," it said. "There were also more than 11,360 proceedings conducted citywide in State Supreme Court's criminal term."

In late June, as the city moved to phase two, judges and chambers staff returned to courthouses, and courthouses began to increase in-person staffing for administrative roles and employees needed to support the increased foot traffic. Family court added virtual courtrooms at that time.

In announcing those changes in late June, the courts said matters had proceeded smoothly since phase one of the reopening began on June 10.

On June 30, New York state court officials announced that attorneys and other visitors would be required to submit to a body temperature check by officers at courthouse doors. If the thermometer reads over 100 degrees, no entry is permitted. Temperature checks will continue under phase three.

--Editing by Peter Rozovsky.

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