This last year has brought changes to just about every industry – and the judicial system is no exception. Right around St. Patrick’s Day of 2020, all court rooms in Santa Barbara County closed their doors, except for two arraignment departments for in-custody arraignments only (one in South County and one in North County). The few cases that were handled during those first few months were almost entirely held via Zoom video conferencing. Any criminal court dates that had previously been set for the months of March, April, May and the beginning of summer were vacated, and the court sent out notices of future dates.
Across the summer, additional criminal departments opened up for different types of hearings via Zoom – but jury trials remained suspended. Judges encouraged lawyers to work together to settle cases, but the nature of the criminal system is adversarial, and settling ALL cases is neither possible nor reasonable. Due to the emergency bail schedule that was imposed by the Chief Justice of California, many charges that were normally arrestable were cite released instead – meaning clients were not put in jail (even for certain felonies), they were handed citations with future court dates. Many clients who were cite released on lower level offenses during that time still have yet to see their arraignment date.
At the end of March 2021, two departments opened up for jury trials (again, one in South County and one in North County) – but the backlog of clients awaiting jury trials continues to pile up. All court rooms are now open for Zoom appearances and limited physical appearances. Most clients who had dates that were vacated have had their cases rescheduled and cite release cases are beginning to appear on the calendar – but it is difficult to imagine how the courts will deal with the enormous back log that still exists, and is continuing to grow (Santa Barbara is still operating under some of the emergency rules).
If you were cite released or had a pending case during the pandemic and are unsure about when you will be back in court, it is important to contact a local lawyer who is in the loop regarding the constantly changing procedures and policies. Many clients will be in the dark – and if a court date is missed, a bench warrant will likely issue.
DISCLAIMER: This section offers a series of criminal law and personal injury related bulletins prepared by the attorneys at Hayes Law Offices. This is not exhaustive, nor is it legal advice. You should discuss your particular situation with us or with your own attorney. Our legal representation is only undertaken through a contract and not by the distribution or use of this information.