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Arizona Courts, Jails Take Measures to Tackle COVID-19

Maricopa and Pima County Superior Courts Extend Suspension of Jury Duty due to Coronavirus

Both Maricopa and Pima County Superior Court issued updates on their responses to the novel Coronavirus pandemic on Friday.

The Pima County update noted that jury service would now be suspended until April 20, 2020. Previously, the court had only ordered the suspension of jury duty through the end of March.

Meanwhile, Maricopa County’s update announced that it would extend the suspension of jury empanelment through April 17, 2020. Maricopa County had also previously suspended jury duty only until March 30th.

Maricopa County also reported that the measures it had taken last week to cancel jury and hold most criminal hearings by motion or telephonically resulted in a 40% reduction in visitors to all Court locations in less than a week. The Maricopa County Superior Court is the nation’s fourth-largest trial court.

Judge Welty, the Presiding Judge for Maricopa County Superior Court, stated in the press release, “During this uncertain time, the public will continue to have access to critical court services delivered through technological means, including telephonic appearances, e-filing, and text messaging.” Judge Welty went on to say, “It is important that we, to the extent possible, do what we can to protect our employees and the public by minimizing the spread of the virus.”

This update may indicate a growing acceptance by Arizona courts that COVID-19’s disruptive effect on the Arizona judicial system will not be as short-lived as officials may previously have hoped.

The Arizona Department of Health and Human Services has reported that COVID-19 cases in Arizona jumped past 150 over the weekend, and the Health Department also confirmed the second death from the Coronavirus in the state. Maricopa County, which is also by far the most populous county in Arizona with almost 4 million inhabitants, has been the hardest hit with over 80 confirmed cases.

What to do if You Receive a Jury Duty Summons for an Arizona Court during Coronavirus Outbreak

Maricopa County Superior Court announced that people will still receive summonses for jury duty because the postcards which notify jurors are sent out four to six weeks in advance. Obviously, a summons cannot be recalled once it has gone out in the mail. However, because of the changed circumstances, many people will be receiving a summons when the jury duty is actually canceled. The pronouncement from the Maricopa County Superior Court, rather than the summons, will control. Any prospective juror who receives a summons for any court in Arizona should call the court ahead of time to confirm whether jury duty has been canceled for the date of their summons.

Arizona Justice Courts Encourage Calls-Ins Amid COVID-19 Fears

Maricopa County issued a press release last Friday, announcing that Maricopa County Justice Courts will limit in-person courtroom contact. This new policy is to ensure compliance with the Arizona Supreme Court’s Administrative Order issued last week to enact measures for the judicial system to address the Coronavirus.

The press release assures the public that the justice courts in Maricopa County are still open to comply with the law and handle emergency needs such as orders of protection. Lawsuits may still be filed, and traffic and other misdemeanor citations are still being processed by the courts. Maricopa County notes, however, that “with the spread of COVID-19 it is prudent to scale back operations.” As such, many matters will be handled telephonically, and the court will make use of available telecommunication technologies to hold hearings and make judicial decisions.

There are over 26 Justices Courts through Maricopa County, and it does not appear that these courts have adopted a uniform approach to handling this new directive to limit in-person contact. Instead, anybody with business in a Maricopa County justice court is advised to contact the particular court to address their legal matter.

The Justice Courts handle small civil matters (i.e., disputes between private parties) of $10,000 or less as well as misdemeanor criminal matters such as non-aggravated DUIs.

Coconino County Releases Inmates while MCSO Beefs up Jail Screening to Prevent Spread of COVID-19

Meanwhile, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone has stated, “My fear is not if, it is when” the novel Coronavirus will make its way into the jail system. It is reported that Sheriff Penzone believes it is inevitable that COVID-19 will infiltrate Arizona’s jail systems, if it has not already done so.

In response, the Sheriff’s Office is reported to be adding additional medical screening, looking for symptoms among inmates, and taking temperatures. Coconino County announced last week that it released around 50 non-violent inmates to clear out the jail population.

Sheriff Penzone has taken a different approach than Coconino County, however, and has not yet released any inmates. Instead, he has stated that he prefers fewer immediate bookings of misdemeanor crimes. His approach favors a strategy of “cite and release,” whereby criminal suspects would receive citations from the police and then be free to leave for the time being. Those citations would then be submitted to the appropriate prosecutorial agency, such as the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office or the Scottsdale Prosecutor’s Office, who would then file charges at a later time.

Jailtime for DUIs, which is mandatory for any DUI conviction in Arizona, is also being postponed in some instances.

See our previous posts on the Impact of COVID-19 on the Legal System Here