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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

  1. In-Person Proceedings Must Be Certified by Independent Medical Experts to Present Minimal Risk of COVID-19 Transmission
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. Criminal Proceedings Require That Conditions Are Restored That Ensure Effective Representation by Conflict-Free Defense Counsel
  6. Constitutional Rights Must Not Be Abridged
  7. Use of Virtual Mechanisms Must Be Temporary, Limited, and Consistent with Constitutional Rights
  8. Use of Virtual Mechanisms Requires the Informed and Voluntary Consent of the Accused Based on a Robust Attorney-Client Relationship
  9. Any Measures Implemented to Address the Pandemic Must Not Exacerbate the Well-Recognized Historic Failures of the Criminal Legal System
  10. 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.