The COVID-19 outbreak has forced courts to adapt to a health crisis while attempting to keep the justice system moving. Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb has enacted a detailed plan for businesses to open that includes social distancing and safety measures. The Indiana Supreme Court has provided some guidance to county courts, but judges have largely been tasked to create their own procedures. Local judges have grappled with the challenge of keeping the public safe, while providing access to justice.
Courts must adopt guiding principles to keep people safe.
The process to open civil and criminal courts must be guided by principles that promote access to justice and public safety. Litigants should be able to get a fair hearing and stay safe. Principles for courts to open should include:
Court proceedings should comply with CDC recommendations on social distancing and use of face coverings.
Litigants, criminal defendants and jurors should not be subject to less stringent safety measures than lawyers, prosecutors, judges, or courthouse staff.
Constant learning, feedback and adjustment are necessary to conduct a safe court system.
These principles can guide policies that keep the public safe. This should include the mandatory use of face masks, use of video hearings to the maximum extent possible, and proper spacing in courtrooms. Service providers can play a key role in keeping the justice system working.
On-line Drug and Alcohol Counseling for OWI and Drug Charges
Criminal defendants who are placed on probation for operating while intoxicated or drug offenses are ordered to complete substance abuse counseling as a term of probation. Calla Collaborative Health has taken the lead in Tippecanoe County moving its Get S-M-A-R-T program on-line. Calla’s program provides substance abuse therapeutic education to persons who are convicted of OWI and drug charges. Calla also serves Purdue students who have been ordered to complete alcohol and drug counseling following a university disciplinary action.
Clinical Director Lisa Werth took quick action to move Calla’s programs on-line in response to the pandemic. Werth reports that the move to on-line classes has worked well. Class size is small (less than 10 students per class) with two licensed facilitators. “Students are provided a safe environment to learn and share feelings. They can interact with each other and engage in group activities,” she said. Calla plans to continue to offer the virtual option even when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Courts must adapt to a new normal.
The judicial system must quickly adjust to a new normal. Crowded courtrooms filled with people from many counties could create a significant health risk. However, by adopting guiding principles, utilizing modern technology, and communicating with lawyers and other stakeholders, courts can provide access to justice in a safe way.