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Defense lawyers to Florida courts: Return to virtual hearings

The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers issued a news release Tuesday saying the group is “extremely concerned about the uptick in positive coronavirus cases throughout the state.”
Seating for potential jurors at the start of the October murder trial of defendant Erin Lee Robinson at the George Edgecomb Courthouse in Tampa can be seen. The trial was the first in Hillsborough County since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Potential jurors were socially distanced and wore protective face coverings.
Seating for potential jurors at the start of the October murder trial of defendant Erin Lee Robinson at the George Edgecomb Courthouse in Tampa can be seen. The trial was the first in Hillsborough County since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Potential jurors were socially distanced and wore protective face coverings. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Jul. 27

In light of a statewide spike in coronavirus cases, an organization of defense lawyers is urging Florida courts to return to virtual hearings.

The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers issued a news release Tuesday saying the group is “extremely concerned about the uptick in positive coronavirus cases throughout the state” and that courts should rely on Zoom for hearings that don’t constitutionally require in-person attendance.

The association “is concerned that if proactive steps are not taken now, more severe measures will be required in the future and will result in further significant adverse due process implications,” said Miami lawyer and association president Jude Faccidomo, according to the news release.

Courts were largely shut down last year as the virus spread through Florida but began returning to normal operations in the spring, when vaccines became widely available to those who wanted one. Most recently, at the beginning of June, the Florida Supreme Court lifted rules requiring masks and social distancing within courthouses.

Related: Florida courts lift mask, distancing requirements

Since then, the state’s case numbers and positivity rate began creeping higher. Cases hit a trough the week of June 11, with about 10,500 new cases. Last week, that weekly total had jumped to 73,199 new cases, according to state Department of Health data. The new case positivity rate was 15 percent, well above the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 5 percent or below.

The association’s release also notes the group’s concerns about infection rates in county jails, which experience high turnover and hold people who are facing charges but have not yet gone to trial. Those pre-trial detainees are sometimes brought over to courthouses from county jails to attend pre-trial hearings in their cases. The state doesn’t track infection rates in county jails.

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