Apr 25, 2020 Temperature checks expand at courts says Fairfax criminal defense lawyer
Temperature checks necessitate arriving earlier at Virginia courthouses, says Fairfax criminal lawyer
Temperature checks and Covid-19-related questioning are likely to expand across Virginia courthouses. As a Fairfax criminal defense lawyer, I know that at least four courthouses are now checking court visitors’ body temperature (which I anticipate will involve a brief laser burst to one’s forehead) and/or questioning them about their health and exposure to possibly sick people, those being Fairfax County, Alexandria City, Chesterfield County, and Henry County. Consequently, courthouse visitors should arrive at courthouses all the earlier to allow for longer time to process each visitor through the security line.
Virginia courts remain open for time-sensitive matters even though trials are generally postponed through May 17, 2020
Recently, the Virginia Supreme Court extended the commonwealth’s judicial emergency to May 17, 2020, which means that the vast majority of criminal and civil trials for non-incarcerated people are not taking place until after May 17. See here for updated courthouse Covid-19-related actions, county by county. Nonetheless, people will still be coming to court for making court filings, checking for filed documents and search warrants, attending protective order hearings and certain pretrial motion hearings, and appearing as witnesses in bond hearings. This makes relevant the anticipation of temperature checks and health questioning at the Virginia courthouses.
Closed court clerk windows and remote hearing opportunities
Anyone planning to visit Virginia courthouses needs to know not only about Covid-19-related temperature check delays in obtaining entry to the courthouses, but also about the extent to which court clerk windows are closed. For instance, the Fairfax County General District Court criminal and traffic clerk windows are closed. This means filing court documents at their respective drop boxes — I see no date-stamp machines — or filing online through GDCmail@fairfaxcounty.gov and GDCtraffic@fairfaxcounty.gov for those respective Fairfax court clerk’s sections. Court filings with the Fairfax Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court may be sent to JDRDC-Filings@FairfaxCounty.gov . On top of that, here is the online portal for attorneys to file their praecipes / entries of appearance in Fairfax County General District Court cases. Some court clerks offices will be operating with reduced staffing and therefore with delays in answering phone calls to the court.
Covid-19 advances some technological access at the Virginia courthouses
Before Covid-19, Virginia courts were not accepting court filings by email, some were not accepting faxed court filings, and it was not common for judges to conduct hearings by phone nor video conferencing, other than such matters as Fairfax Circuit Court chambers meetings for a party’s trial rescheduling request. By conducting court proceedings remotely, temperature checks are not needed.
Now, we see not only the courts that have expanded their willingness to receive court filings by email and fax, but also judges who are willing to hold bond and other hearings by phone and webcamera, including Cisco’s Webex. My preference is to appear in person for a contested hearing, even if my temperature check is needed. The Confrontation Clause to the United States Constitution’s Sixth Amendment entitles criminal defendants to require opposing witnesses to be present in person, while defendants can also waive that right and agree for opposing witnesses to appear remotely. It is essential that judges not penalize criminal defendants who decline for witnesses to appear remotely for trials and hearings. Of course, if a party or witness shows up at the courthouse with an elevated temperature, they may be turned away, thus getting a court date rescheduling or remote court access; the court may not Constitutionally exclude one’s witness merely for not having body heat under 100 farenheit.
Accessing Fairfax County General District court case documents from computer terminals after getting a temperature check
Fortunately, once visitors get their temperature checked, criminal and DUI case documents filed with the Fairfax County General District Court are available on their three public computer terminals at the clerk’s office on the second floor, where a visitor may also fill out a printout request for 50 cents per page. The court prohibits photography in the courthouse without advance judicial permission, leaving no option to take a photograph of images appearing on courthouse computer terminal screens.
Fairfax criminal lawyer Jonathan L. Katz pursues your best defense against felony, misdemeanor and DUI prosecutions, and against protective order proceedings. Call 703-383-1100 to schedule a free consultation with Jon Katz about your court-pending criminal or DWI case.