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COVID-19’s Impact on Criminal Courts in New York State

The courts, like most every organization in New York, have been forced to drastically alter their operations because of the coronavirus epidemic. New York’s state court system has been open only for essential criminal matters since March 22. These essential matters were listed in the chief administrative judge’s order of that date:

  • Arraignments
  • Bail applications, reviews and writs
  • Temporary orders of protection
  • Resentencing of incarcerated defendants
  • Essential sex offender registration issues

This order came nine days after an announcement from the court system that no new criminal jury trials would start after March 16.

Everyone understands it is necessary to limit courtroom activity, since it is nearly impossible to practice safe social distancing there. And the court system has done a laudable job of setting up virtual courtrooms in a matter of only a few weeks to try to keep cases moving during the pandemic.

Even so, restricting criminal court operations raises serious issues about the rights of defendants. In New York, prosecutors are required by law to either charge an arrested person with a crime or release them within 120 hours. But in the circumstances of this severe public health emergency, tough decisions have had to be made. Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order on March 20 that among other things tolls the time limits in criminal cases. This means that until the order is lifted or relaxed:

  • People arrested on criminal grounds can be detained indefinitely, not necessarily released after 120 hours.
  • Speedy trial requirements, normally 90 days for misdemeanors and six months for felonies, are suspended.

With these emergency rules in place, it is critical to have a criminal defense attorney who understands the criminal procedure and is able to champion your rights despite the constraints. If an accused person is incarcerated at a jail where there are high rates of COVID-19 infections and they are in a high-risk group, it may be possible for a lawyer to secure their release on emergency grounds.

The Law Office of James L. Riotto in Rochester and Albany remains committed to protecting the rights of those accused of crimes. Our attorneys are helping clients using telephones and video tools. If you need help, please call us right away at 866-772-2122 or contact us online.

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James L. Riotto
Criminal Defense Lawyer

James L. Riotto is an accomplished criminal defense attorney serving clients in New York. With an extensive background in law enforcement and criminal prosecution, his approach to each case is unique and informed by years of experience with the New York criminal justice system. As a graduate from Albany Law School and before going on to start his own practice, James worked at the Albany County District Attorney's Office, where he helped prosecute many DWI offenses. His inside knowledge of the tactics used to gain convictions provides him with a particular advantage when defending against DUI and other criminal charges.

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Adam Staier
Of Counsel

About Attorney Adam Staier has spent the last seven years practicing criminal defense law throughout upstate New York and the Capital Region. He began his legal career through internships in civil law, indigent legal representation and federal energy law regulation. Finding a passion in criminal law, Mr. Staier held internships handling both prosecution and defense…

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