Much has changed in the practice of Florida criminal defense during COVID. With varying orders being issued by the Florida Supreme Court, the Chief Judges of the Circuits, County and local municipalities, we are all dealing with the semi-shutdown as best we can. It seems that new orders, tweaking the last set, are made about every other week.
The common ground amongst the orders affecting the courthouses is that during the shutdown in-person hearings are to be rare. Many essential functions are deemed an exception to the rule and are taking place in person. A recent development from the Florida Supreme Court, was to add criminal arraignments to the list of those functions deemed essential to the system. Because arraignments are now on the list of essential proceedings, arraignments are held in person. That means the Defendant has to appear and enter the courthouse, wearing a face covering, of course.
Failing to appear at arraignment, or any other criminal court event will cause an arrest warrant to be issued for the Defendant. This is true even if the case is a misdemeanor, felony, or criminal traffic citation and the reason given is fear of COVID. While some people may be reasonably and actually scared of COVID, failing to appear is not the way to face the fear.
In Florida, but not all states or the Federal system, a person with a lawyer does not have to attend arraignment. A criminal lawyer can file paperwork to excuse the Defendant from arraignment and some, but not necessarily all, other court events. Unfortunately, unless a Public Defender was assigned at First Appearance, then a Defendant relying on the services of the Public Defender will have to physically appear at an in-person arraignment to have the Public Defender assigned. (First Appearance & Arraignment.)
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