Stephen Ross Johnson
Stephen Ross Johnson serves on the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) Task Force on Criminal Court Reopening. The Task Force has issued a Statement of Principles and Report regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the reopening of criminal courts in the United States. As explained in the report, “[g]iven the nature of the disease and the manner of transmission, court proceedings, especially in jury trials, present a grave risk to all participants, including the public which has a fundamental right to attend.”
The report provides the following core principles:
Summary of Core Principles for Reopening Courts
- In-Person Proceedings Must Be Certified by Independent Medical Experts to Present Minimal Risk of COVID-19 Transmission
- High-Risk Individuals Should Not be Required to Participate in In-Court Proceedings in Which There is a Risk of Infection in the Courthouse, Nor Should That Person or the Accused Suffer Any Penalty or Loss of Rights for Declining to Participate
- Any Measures Implemented to Address the Pandemic Must Be Limited to the Duration of the Pandemic and Tailored to Meet an Articulated Public Health Need
- Criminal Proceedings Require That Conditions Are Restored That Ensure Defense Counsel Can Meet Their Sixth Amendment Obligations, Including the Conditions Necessary for Robust, Ethical Attorney-Client Relationships
- Criminal Proceedings Require That Conditions Are Restored That Ensure Effective Representation by Conflict-Free Defense Counsel
- Constitutional Rights Must Not Be Abridged
- Use of Virtual Mechanisms Must Be Temporary, Limited, and Consistent with Constitutional Rights
- Use of Virtual Mechanisms Requires the Informed and Voluntary Consent of the Accused Based on a Robust Attorney-Client Relationship
- Any Measures Implemented to Address the Pandemic Must Not Exacerbate the Well-Recognized Historic Failures of the Criminal Legal System
- Courts Should Use Pre-Trial Release and Other Mechanisms to Minimize the Pressures on the Accused During the Pandemic, Including Affording an Accused the Unilateral Right to Elect a Bench Trial Where that Right Does Not Already Exist
Read the full News Release here.
The full Statement of Principles and Report is available here.