Courts around the Commonwealth began closing on March 10, 2020. On March 18, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court closed all Pennsylvania Courts until April 3. (There are a few very narrow exceptions to the closure). With the announcement by President Trump of continued social distancing until April 30, 2020, we expect that these closures will extend beyond April 3, 2020. These closures are going to create logistical issues that the courts have never faced before. Looking through my social media last night, it dawned on me how these closures are likely to affect the criminal justice system.
By now we have all seen the social media posts updating us about every activity parents are doing to homeschool their kids. The evolution of these posts over the past ten days perfectly demonstrates the inevitable backlog that our court system will soon face. It also demonstrates the inevitable need to resolve cases in a more expeditious manner.
The posts on Day 1 showed parents reading, writing, doing crafts, and outdoor activities. The crafts were ingenious museum quality works of art created from common household items. First graders were reading War and Peace. Families were scaling Mt. Everest. In every picture, parents were smiling from ear to ear delighted to have extra time with their kids.
The posts on Day 5 were notably less enthusiastic. The crafts had become decidedly less ingenious. Parents were no longer teaching their kid to recreate the Statue of David out of pipe cleaners, paper towel roles, and food coloring. Rather, they were teaching them how to make turkeys by tracing their hands. Instead of War and Peace, they were reading Cat and The Hat. Instead of scaling Everest, families walked around the neighborhood.
By day 10 things had changed dramatically. Reading and writing were replaced with movies. Kids were given a history lesson by watching Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Parents decided they could teach kids all twelve grades in two hours by having them watch Billy Madison. Outdoor time consisted of sending the kids to the mailbox to bring in the mail. Those ear to ear smiles turned into looks of utter exhaustion.
The decline in the level of the homeschool experience did not occur because parents placed less emphasis on its importance. It did not happen because parents stopped loving their kids. The decline happened because there is only so much time in the day. Parents were still working from home. Their normal work and household tasks continued just as they had before. Simply stated, there was not enough time to do Day 1 quality activities and continue with normal daily tasks.
The Courts are no different. With the exception of a very few emergency hearings, the Courts will be closed for weeks, if not months. The court appearances that where originally scheduled while the Courts are closed will have to be added to the Courts already busy docket. Additionally, law enforcement will continue to arrest individuals for crimes creating even more cases. Simply stated, the system will likely be overwhelmed. One potential way to remedy the backlog is to provide better deals to the accused in an effort to resolve cases quickly. Just like the homeschooling parents had to come to grips with the fact they couldn’t accomplish everything they want, the Commonwealth may likely have to do the same. The experienced attorneys at The McShane Firm will be able to take advantage of these circumstances to hopefully achieve better results for our clients.
Another serious Coronavirus related issue is the potential for an inmate to get infected. This would be a nightmare scenario for any prison facility. By the nature of our prison system, there will be many guards and prisoners confined in close quarters. If an infected individual is incarcerated, a rapid spread of the virus is likely. For this reason, many facilities are going to great efforts to dramatically reduce the prison population. One of the most talked about ways to achieve this is to refrain from incarcerating non-violent offenders.
Coronavirus related changes to our criminal justice system are occurring at lightning speed. In fact, since March 12, 2020, our various state courts have issued well over 100 administrative orders dealing with new policies and procedures. That is why it is important that you get competent representation on board to navigate your case through these ever changing times. At The McShane Firm, we have seven attorneys and a dozen support staff dedicated solely to the practice of DUI and Criminal Defense. These resources uniquely qualify us to provide you with zealous reputation no matter how large the court docket becomes. You need an experienced attorney to be by your side to help you navigate these ever-changing circumstances and to make sure that your criminal case is not something that you have to worry about right now. Call The McShane Firm today and let us take care of you!