Kind of. Beginning November 16, 2020, Maryland courts are shifting from Phase V back to Phase III of the COVID-19 reopening plans. This reflects the increasing COVID-19 infection rates in Maryland.
So, what does that mean for pending cases?
- All jury trials statewide scheduled for November and December 2020 are postponed. Jury trials scheduled for January and February 2021 are still on the books for now, but, in my opinion, if the COVID-19 infection rates don’t decrease quickly, it seems likely that the Court of Appeals will extend the postponements further. For clients that had jury trials scheduled for November and December 2020, those dates have been converted to status dates.
- Peace and protective orders are still being heard in person in both District and Circuit Court.
- Many hearings in Circuit Courts will continue to be heard remotely over video conferencing software. Hearings like bond reviews, statuses, motions (that don’t involve witness testimony), and pre-trial hearings will continue to occur remotely.
- Many District Court cases will continue to be heard in person. The Court is supposed to prioritize DUI/DWI cases and cases that involve violence (presumably Second Degree Assault cases), but for now, everything remains as scheduled. Some jurisdictions (such as Montgomery County) are postponing payable traffic cases (like speeding tickets), but none of the Southern Maryland counties have done that, yet.
The postponement of jury trials raises some interesting constitutional issues. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 21 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights guarantee a speedy trial. There’s no exception to those bedrock constitutional rights for a pandemic. For example, we haven’t suspended the First or Second Amendments due to the pandemic. Additionally, Maryland Rule § 4-271 (commonly known as the “Hicks” rule) requires trial within 180 days in the Circuit Court. The Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals has suspended those rules via a judicial order. While I think these are appropriate and novel constitutional issues, practically, I don’t anticipate Circuit Court judges dismissing cases based on these issues due to the Chief Judge’s order.
If you have a pending case in Maryland and think a free initial consultation would be helpful, contact us today.
UPDATE (as of December 22, 2020): The Court of Appeals has extended the suspension of jury trials statewide until at least April 23, 2021. Most other kind of court hearings are continuing to happen remotely. Some District Court matters, such as DUIs and assaults, are still being heard in-person.