As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its trek across the United States, every facet of life as we know it has been changed. For many people, this has meant being ordered to stay at home. However, this may be easier said than done, especially if you have a court date scheduled pertaining to child custody or other legal matters. While many courts across the country have suspended meeting in-person until further notice, others may be choosing to forge ahead with having individuals come to their courtroom to conduct business. If you are facing this situation, it is important to remember that you do have rights as they pertain to your personal safety. As for how to balance meeting your legal obligations with keeping yourself safe and healthy during the pandemic, here are some important ways you can do both.
Personal Protective Equipment
If you must make an in-person appearance in a courtroom, always remember you have the right to enter the building wearing various types of personal protective equipment that will protect you from the virus. These can include gloves, face masks, and even face shields if you feel these are necessary. In most courtrooms at the moment, judges and other court personnel are also wearing PPE, so you will definitely not feel awkward by doing so.
For some people who may be deemed to be at higher risk of contracting the virus and experiencing complications that could be life-threatening, many courts are now using video technology to conduct hearings online. Much like telemedicine, technology now allows judges to meet virtually with you and your attorney from various locations. These can include your home, your attorney’s office, or even a hospital if you have been admitted for treatment. Whatever the case may be, if you have a valid reason for believing your health would be greatly jeopardized by physically traveling to a courtroom, make your concerns known to your attorney. Even in the case of criminal charges, your attorney can have alternative arrangements made on your behalf.
Protect Your Legal Rights
Since many courts are dealing with situations they have never before encountered, it is possible some will choose to handle things differently from others. While some judges will suspend court operations indefinitely, others may choose to move forward with business as usual. If this happens to you and you do not feel safe leaving your home to be around a larger group of strangers, do everything possible to protect your rights. For example, if you are in need of an attorney for an upcoming trial, you may experience a delay in having one appointed to you by a court. Should this happen, your right to due process may be violated. Rather than let this happen, it is usually best to hire an attorney yourself as quickly as possible, since this will ensure your constitutional rights are protected each step of the way.
If you have an upcoming court appearance but are under stay-at-home orders or simply do not feel safe venturing out, you may be able to obtain a written statement from a doctor verifying your reasons for not wanting to physically appear in court. Whether you have been hospitalized or have visited a doctor due to a recent illness, having documentation of your visit and a written statement from your doctor will usually be sufficient for the court to delay your hearing or let you participate in one via teleconferencing. Even if you are initially pressured by the court to show up in person, do not let this intimidate you. Instead, speak with your doctor and your attorney as soon as possible to get the situation under control.
While public health continues to be the main focus during this pandemic, it is nevertheless important to make sure your basic liberties and rights are not violated in a manner that endangers your health and that of your family. No matter the circumstances, working closely with your attorney and if necessary your doctor can ensure the court will work with you to make arrangements to not only hold your hearing, but keep you safe along the way. Though you may have legal matters to resolve, they should not be turned into life or death situations.