Chief Justice Cheri Beasley entered an omnibus order on Thursday, October 15, 2020 extending emergency directives issued in response to the public health threat posed by COVID-19, which otherwise would have expired on that date. The order extends Emergency Directives 2-5, 8-15, 18, and 20-22. It also modifies directives 2, 10, 21, and 22. These directives (discussed in further detail below) now expire November 14, 2020. Continue reading
Tag Archives: COVID-19
We have posted regularly during the COVID-19 pandemic about emergency directives entered by the Chief Justice pursuant to G.S. 7A-39(b)(2) that establish procedures and protocols governing the continuing operation of the courts. Last month’s post reviewed the status of directives then in place, noting their varying expiration dates. Last week, the Chief Justice entered an omnibus renewal order, which included all emergency directives currently in effect and placed all but one of them on the same expiration cycle. This post will briefly review those directives and other aspects of the September 15, 2020 order.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley has exercised her authority under G.S. 7A-39(b)(2) to issue orders imposing 22 emergency directives to ensure the continuing operation of the courts. Such emergency orders expire no later than 30 days from their issuance, though they may be renewed for additional 30-day periods. Because the orders imposing the directives were issued on differing dates, they have expired and have been renewed on differing schedules. The Chief Justice entered the latest renewal order yesterday. This post will review the directives that are currently in place, including those related to the eventual resumption of jury trials.
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. Continue reading →
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.
We previously shared data on jail occupancy in North Carolina for 2018 (here) and 2019 (here). Responding to requests for information regarding changes in jail populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, with this report we offer information about 2020 jail populations. For an explanation regarding our data source and explanatory notes, please see our prior reports. Before we get to the numbers, we make two important points. First, beginning on April 6, 2020, a moratorium was placed on most inmate transfers from county jails to the state prison system. As our colleague Jamie Markham explained, state officials imposed that moratorium to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, inmates ordered to serve active time were—unless sentenced to time served, released on appeal bond, or otherwise permitted to delay the start of their sentence—rolled into a “jail backlog.” By the end of May 2020, there were over 1600 backlog inmates in county jails. To the extent efforts were made to reduce populations in county jails, the moratorium would have impacted those initiatives. Second, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a suspension of jury trials. Charging new offenses, however, has continued. Thus, jails may be experiencing a backlog of defendants detained pretrial. Continue reading →
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.
Quick Reference Guide to Orders from the Chief Justice and the North Carolina Supreme Court Related to COVID-19
[This post originally appeared on the School of Government’s civil law blog.]
Since the start of the pandemic, the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and the North Carolina Supreme Court have issued a number of directives impacting the court system. Instead of doing a heavy substantive post today, I thought I would share a quick reference chart I’ve been using to keep track of these directives, their effect based on the most recent order issued, the dates of the order containing each directive, and their expiration date. Continue reading →