As jury trials resume across the state, many criminal courts will soon confront the issue of whether to permit State’s witnesses to wear masks while testifying. CDC guidance suggests that there can be substantial health risks to allowing unmasked testimony in the confines of a courtroom, but as I explore below, the allowance of masked testimony presents its own significant constitutional risks.
While the suspension of jury trials caused by the pandemic has slowed the work of the criminal courts, judges across the state continue to sentence defendants who enter guilty pleas. The prospect of their clients facing prison time during the pandemic has spurred defense attorneys to consider what arguments might be made during sentencing proceedings with respect to the heightened danger of a defendant contracting COVID-19 in a correctional facility.
In an earlier bulletin, I discussed the possibility that state habeas petitions could emerge as a remedy for medically vulnerable prisoners in North Carolina, as they have in other states (most notably New York). While it remains too early to tell how North Carolina courts will respond, there have been some important developments in recent weeks, as a number of prisoners have asked courts to consider their petitions. This post explores the status of two of those cases and related legal issues regarding the viability of state habeas as a remedy for prisoners uniquely endangered by COVID-19.