Pennsylvania Supreme Court Declares Judicial Emergency

On Monday, March 16, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania declared a statewide judicial emergency, effective until April 14, 2020. As a result, county courts have the authority to institute special judicial measures and precautions to meet the challenges brought on by the recent COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.

In accordance with the statewide judicial emergency declaration, subject to constitutional restrictions, county courts are authorized to do the following:

  • Suspend time calculations for determining deadlines and other judicial business
  • Utilize advanced communications technology to facilitate court proceedings
  • Take special action under Pennsylvania Rule of Judicial Administration 1952(b)(2)

Under Rule 1952(b)(2), judges have the power to take the following emergency actions:

  • “order the closure of court facilities until safe operations of the court and its offices can be restored;
  • order the evacuation of court facilities;
  • direct the relocation of court operations to safe locations;
  • take necessary action to provide for (i) the safety of court personnel, court users and the public, and (ii) the security of court facilities, financial and cash operations, equipment and records;
  • establish a telephone hotline or web site to provide the bench, bar and the public with court and emergency information;
  • reassign judges or court personnel within the judicial district as needed to ensure the continuation of operations;
  • expand the duties and work hours of staff to handle emergency matters;
  • cancel or modify court calendars, subpoenas or other court orders;
  • cancel or suspend jury and non-jury trials;
  • cancel or suspend jury duty;
  • suspend or modify local rules of court and administrative rules or procedures, including personnel policies;
  • suspend or modify the time requirements and limitations established by local rule;
  • make application to the Supreme Court to temporarily suspend or modify statewide court rules as applied to any case or cases in the judicial district;
  • provide for alternative signing, delivery and service of court documents and orders;
  • extend the duration of any emergency or temporary order (for example, protection from abuse order) issued by a judge or magisterial district judge in the judicial district;
  • assign custodial responsibility for court funds;
  • ensure compliance with any Federal, State or local emergency declarations;
  • order the full or partial implementation of the continuity of operations plan established pursuant to Rule of Judicial Administration No. 1951; and
  • request additional emergency judicial orders from the Supreme Court as the needs of justice require.”

Concerns for a Defendant’s Right to a Speedy Trial

The emergency declaration also authorizes judges to exclude cases delayed or suspended in accordance with emergency court closures from the protections of Rule of Criminal Procedure 600, which codifies a criminal defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Under Rule 600, a criminal defendant who is not in custody must be brought to trial within a year (365 days) after the District Attorney files a criminal complaint against them. When the defendant is detained, the Commonwealth must bring them to trial within 180 days after filing the complaint. This includes weekends, holidays, any day where the Commonwealth “fails to exercise due diligence.”

Accordingly, those days when a court is closed as a precautionary measure to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 will not count when determining whether the Commonwealth failed to bring the defendant to trial by the required 365 or 180 days following the filing of the criminal complaint.

If the Commonwealth does not, with good cause, bring the defendant to trial in accordance with Rule 600, the defendant may move the court to dismiss the charges with prejudice—meaning that, if granted, the defendant’s criminal case would be closed for good.

Therefore, the emergency powers of the courts make it harder for defendants to obtain dismissals due to delays caused by COVID-19 precautions.

Consult Scaringi Law for Vital Information on Recent Legal Developments

If you need an attorney to represent your interests in a legal matter—such as a criminal case—you should reach out to Scaringi Law. We are dedicated to advising Pennsylvania residents and advocating for their legal interests to ensure their constitutional due process rights are not violated.

Please call us at (717) 775-7195 or contact our office online to arrange for an initial consultation about your case today.

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