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Are The Criminal Courts In New Jersey Currently Open And Hearing Cases At This Time?

The criminal courts in New Jersey are open but have primarily gone to virtual hearings conducted through platforms like Zoom for matters that don’t require a testimonial hearing or sentencing. If a matter is going to require something like a trial, testimonial hearing, or pleading guilty, then both parties have the right to consent to a virtual hearing but can’t be forced to take part in it. Some prosecutors are refusing to consent because they realize that in some cases, they will be at a great advantage by keeping the defendant in jail while we wait for the courts to reopen.

Do You Foresee Problems Down The Road As Far As New Challenges In Light Of Online Hearings?

For temporary restraining orders, the Supreme Court has made it mandatory to take part in a virtual hearing with testimony. This presents a whole host of problems, one of which is that you’re trying to take testimony or cross-examine someone who’s not in the same room with you; you don’t know if they’re looking at you, and there are serious confrontation clause issues which make it difficult to do an effective cross-examination, present documents to the court, or mark items.

The other area where I foresee problems is where we already have clients who are in jail and are being held pre-trial. I have a number of cases where we have a probable cause or other hearing that we’d like to go forward on in order to get our client released, but we can’t because there are no testimonial hearings going on in court. On top of that, judges are issuing excludable time orders, which means the time doesn’t even count towards their speedy trial rights. On all legal fronts, it’s going to be an interesting next couple of years, that’s for sure.

How Do Remote Hearings Work In New Jersey?

Remote hearings are conducted on Zoom. Different courts are conducting hearings differently; in the superior court for criminal matters, we log in, go into a waiting room, and then appear before the judge. For cases involving municipal courts, each town is doing it a little bit differently; in some towns, there is a virtual meeting with the prosecutor followed by a virtual meeting with the judge, and in other towns, you just sit there as if you were in court and wait until the judge is ready for you (this could take hours). In some cases, the virtual process is better because it eliminates the stress and travel time associated with showing up in court in person. At the same time, there are some problems with this, such as clients who try to log in from their cars and have connection issues, or people who are surrounded by distractions in their homes (e.g. children, other people in the house). It’s good to be at home while doing it, but at the same time, it’s not always perfect. If there is a bad connection, then we may need to cancel the hearing.

For more information on Remote Hearing During COVID-19, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling 908-643-7005 today.

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