Among the Chief Justice’s early emergency directives and orders to address court operations in light of the COVID-19 outbreak were extensions for the time for paying monies owed in criminal cases. Those directives, which extended the time for doing certain acts in criminal cases and directed clerks to delay the entry of reports of failures to comply, were extended and modified in subsequent orders. The upshot was that defendants ordered to pay sums that would have resulted in entry of a “failure to comply” and the assessment of additional costs (and, in Chapter 20 cases, a report to DMV that would trigger a license revocation) had until July 31, 2020 to pay monies owed without incurring those consequences. That date passed last Friday, so clerks now are entering failures to comply, assessing the $50 in costs and reporting the entry to DMV in Chapter 20 cases.
Tag Archives: chief justice
The Chief Justice entered two new emergency directives last week, requiring people in court facilities to wear face coverings and directing senior resident superior court judges to craft a plan for jury trials to resume in the fall.
Face coverings. Face coverings have been required in most public spaces since June 26, 2020 pursuant to Executive Order 147. That gubernatorial order did not, however, apply to court facilities. As a result, requirements for face coverings in courthouses have varied among judicial districts. The Chief Justice created uniformity last Thursday when she entered an emergency directive requiring people in court facilities to wear face coverings while they are in common areas of the facility and when they are interacting with others.
McKinley Wooten, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), entered guidance in a July 17, 2020 memorandum clarifying that common areas are areas available for use by more than one person, such as lobbies, hallways, courtrooms, elevators, stairways, breakrooms and bathrooms.
The Chief Justice’s directive requires clerks of superior court to post a notice of the face covering requirement at the entrance to every court facility in their counties.
Exceptions. The face covering requirement for court facilities does not apply to a person who (1) cannot wear a face covering for health or safety reasons, (2) is actively eating or drinking, (3) is communicating with a person who is hearing impaired in a way that requires the mouth to be visible, (4) is temporarily removing a face covering to secure medical services or for identification purposes, or (5) is under eleven years of age.
Wondering about the general prohibition on mask wearing? The wearing of face masks in public areas has long been prohibited by criminal statutes adopted to regulate the activities of unlawful secret societies. Thus, G.S. 14-12.7 and 14-12.8 generally prohibit the wearing of face coverings that conceal the wearer’s identity on public ways and on public property. Exceptions apply for, among other things, traditional holiday costumes and for people engaged in jobs where masks are worn for physical safety or because of the nature of the profession. G.S. 14-12.11. In May, the General Assembly enacted an additional exception for a person wearing a mask to ensure the person’s physical health or safety or the physical health or safety of others. See S.L. 2020-3 (S 704). That exception was set to expire August 1, 2020, but the legislature recently made the change permanent in S.L. 2020-93 (S 232).
Jury trials. The Chief Justice entered Emergency Directive 10 on June 20, 2020, providing that no jury trials may be convened for the next thirty days. She noted then her intention to extend that directive through at least the end of July. The Chief Justice in Thursday’s order expressed her intention to extend Emergency Directive 10 until at least the end of September. She stated that while face coverings “will help decrease the spread of COVID-19 in our courthouses, more precautions and planning are necessary before jury trials may resume.”
Emergency Directive 22 requires each senior resident superior court judge, in consultation with other local officials, to craft a plan for the resumption of jury trials in his or her judicial district. If a chief district court judge determines that a separate plan for jury trials in district court is needed, he or she is directed, in consultation with other local officials, to craft that plan.
The plans. Each jury trial resumption plan must ensure that court operations comply with the Chief Justice’s emergency directives and must be informed by the AOC’s guidance on best safety practices.
Each plan must include the following:
- a confirmation that each court facility and any alternate facility to be used for court operations is in compliance with each of the Chief Justice’s emergency orders;
- a plan for summoning and excusing jurors, which allows for as much of the process to be handled remotely as possible;
- a plan for conducting voir dire with social distancing;
- a plan for conducting trials with social distancing in the courtroom for all court participants, including the jury, and in the deliberation room;
- a plan for daily screening of jurors, court personnel, attorneys, witnesses, and parties for COVID-19 exposure or infection;
- a plan for making face coverings available to jurors, court personnel, attorneys, witnesses, and parties; and
- a plan for responding in the event that a juror, defendant, attorney, witness, judge, or other courtroom personnel becomes symptomatic, tests positive for COVID-19, or has a known exposure to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 during the trial.
Before jury summonses are issued, the senior resident must submit a copy of the plan to the Chief Justice. The plan, which must be promulgated by local rule or administrative order no later than September 1, 2020, must be approved by each of the following officials in the county in which jury trials are to be conducted:
- the chief district court judge;
- the clerk of superior court;
- the district attorney;
- the public defender, or a criminal defense attorney chosen by the senior resident superior court judge in districts without a public defender;
- the sheriff; and
- the public health director.
Chief Justice Cheri Beasley entered three emergency orders on Saturday affecting court operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two of the orders impact criminal cases. One extends the deadline for filing notices of appeal. The other extends the authorization for remote proceedings in Emergency Directive 3 and renews and modifies the provisions of Emergency Directive 7, which provides additional time to pay monies owed in a criminal or infraction case. (The third order stays eviction actions that currently are pending in the trial courts until June 21, 2020 and imposes other requirements related to eviction proceedings.) Continue reading →
This post was updated on May 22, 2020 to include discussion of a May 21, 2020 order extending deadlines in criminal cases and a May 14, 2020 order from the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Cheri Beasley entered an order today imposing eight new emergency directives (Directives 9 -16) to address court operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Chief Justice entered a separate order extending time for documents to be filed and acts due to be done in criminal cases in the trial courts.
In regular times, North Carolina’s state courthouses are high traffic venues, filled with employees, attorneys, media, law enforcement officers, and members of the public. Much of the work that transpires in these venues takes place through in-person interactions. Litigants file pleadings and other paperwork with the clerk’s office. Attorneys meet with clients, witnesses, law enforcement officers, and victims to explain proceedings, negotiate pleas, discuss schedules, and prepare for hearings and trials. Reporters often are on-hand to report on cases, activities, and trends of interest. Some law enforcement officers appear to testify; others are there to provide security. And then there is the public. Hundreds of defendants may appear on any given criminal district court docket. Many of them are accompanied by friends or family members. Some defendants seek to have an attorney appointed; others ask for a continuance. Some plead guilty in open court, and others submit a waiver of appearance, admission of guilt, and pay fines and costs to the clerk to resolve outstanding charges. Victims also appear to observe the disposition of a criminal cases in which they were harmed. Many of these people–defendants, friends, family, and victims alike–may spend hours sitting shoulder to shoulder in a crowded courtroom before completing their business before the court.
The courthouse scene has been dramatically different and has involved significantly fewer in-person interactions in the weeks since Chief Justice Cheri Beasley entered her first COVID-19 emergency directive on March 13, 2020. While courts have remained opened, and judges have continued to hear emergency and time-sensitive matters, regular sessions of criminal court have largely ceased in most districts. Most criminal cases have been continued until June 1, 2020 or later pursuant to the Chief Justice’s directives. With June 1 just a few weeks away and with the Governor slowly easing COVID-19 restrictions, court officials are now considering how they can resume some of their previous in-court activities while ensuring the safety of everyone present in the courthouse—from employees to the public.
Chief Justice Cheri Beasley entered an order on Friday, May 1, modifying and extending eight emergency directives previously issued on April 2 and April 16, 2020. The Chief Justice’s April 2 order, in which noted that she fully expected to extend its directives for an additional 30-day period and that judicial system stakeholders should plan for the directives to last through May, presaged the current one. Emergency orders issued by the Chief Justice pursuant to G.S. 7A-39(b)(2) initially may endure for no more than thirty days, but may be extended for additional 30-day periods. Friday’s order was effective immediately and expires on May 30, 2020.
As before, three of the emergency directives are particularly significant in criminal cases.
Chief Justice Cheri Beasley entered an order yesterday extending until June 1, 2020 the time and periods of limitations for documents and papers due to be filed and acts due to be done in the trial courts. The Chief Justice previously had extended to April 17, 2020 the deadline for filings, periods of limitation and other acts. She further extended those deadlines based on predictions that late April “may be the apex of the [COVID-19] outbreak in North Carolina.” Continue reading →
Chief Justice Cheri Beasley entered an order last Thursday, April 2, 2020, imposing emergency directives that were immediately effective and that affect criminal cases.
Legal authority. The Chief Justice’s order was entered pursuant to G.S. 7A-39(b)(2), which permits the Chief Justice, after determining or declaring that catastrophic conditions exist in one or more counties of the state, to issue emergency directives necessary to ensure the continuing operation of essential trial or appellate court functions. Such directives are effective notwithstanding any other provision of law. Continue reading →
Executive Order 118. Governor Cooper issued Executive Order 118 on Tuesday, directing bars to close and restricting restaurants to selling food only for carry-out, drive through, delivery, and onsite consumption in outdoor seating areas, subject to mass gathering seating restrictions. Restaurants are broadly defined to include permitted food establishments, cafeterias, food halls, dining halls, food kiosks at airports and shopping centers or educational institutions, food courts, and private or members-only clubs where food and beverages may be consumed on premises.
The order does not affect the sale or distribution of prepared food by grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, gas stations, or charitable food distribution sites. It does, however, bar sit-down food or beverage services within those facilities.
Note: The same day this order was issued, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) entered an Order of Abatement of Imminent Hazard that restricted restaurants to carry-out, drive-through, and delivery. The abatement order did not permit onsite consumption in outdoor eating areas. As explained in this frequently asked questions document, restaurants thus were required by the DHHS order to close all seating areas.
Legal authority. During a state of emergency, the Governor may impose by declaration certain prohibitions in the emergency area. G.S. 166A-19.30(c). The Governor has such authority if he or she determines that local control is insufficient to protect lives or property because, for example, the emergency crosses jurisdictional boundaries and local measures are conflicting or uncoordinated in a way that severely hampers protection efforts. Id. The Governor also may take such action when the scale of the emergency exceeds the capabilities of local authorities to cope with it. Id.
When the Governor acts pursuant to this authority, he or she may impose any of the types of prohibitions that local governments may impose under G.S. 166A-19.31. Among those types of prohibitions are prohibiting or restricting the operation of business establishments and other places to or from which people may travel or at which they may congregate. G.S. 166A-19.31(c)(2).
As with Executive Order 117, the Governor has directed that the provisions of Executive Order 118 be enforced by state and local law enforcement officers. Violation of such an order is a Class 2 misdemeanor.
Extension of deadlines. Earlier today, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley entered an order extending filing deadlines and limitations periods in certain cases. The Chief Justice entered this order pursuant to G.S. 7A-39(b)(1), which permits her to extend deadlines and limitations periods upon a determination that catastrophic conditions exist or have existed in one or more counties of the state.
Today’s order provides that any pleading, motion, notice, or other document or paper that was or is due to be filed in any county on or after March 16, 2020 and before the close of business on April 17, 2020 in a civil action, criminal action, estates, or special proceeding is timely filed if filed before the close of business on April 17, 2020.
The Chief Justice further ordered that all other acts that were or will be due to be done in any county on or after March 16, 2020, and before the close of business on April 17, 2020, in civil actions, criminal actions, estates, and special proceedings are timely if done before the close of business on April 17, 2020.
The order does not apply to documents and papers due to be filed or acts due to be done in the appellate courts.
On Friday, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley entered two emergency directives to reduce the spread of infection from COVID-19. On Saturday, Governor Roy Cooper entered an executive order prohibiting mass gatherings and ordering the statewide closure of public schools.