COVID-19 infects the Court System

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BLOOMSBURG— With no end in sight to the current pandemic, the Columbia County Court system is doing its best to keep up with the legal process despite not operating at full capacity.

COVID-19 hit the court system, leaving incarcerated inmates awaiting trial and all scheduled trials at a standstill. It’s the last thing people were thinking about when the COVID-19 virus infected the United States, leaving us all scrambling for answers.

Columbia County Court Administrator Tami Kline said they planned to resume trials in January, pending any significant outbreaks.

“[That is] if we can safely conduct trials without compromising the health of the jury panel,” she said. “Since we are not experiencing a significant backup of cases called for trial, I don’t anticipate any significant problems.”

Kline said the county is actually saving money after beginning to release inmates who were incarcerated for minor offenses. This is benefiting both inmates and the court system. The court system made sure they were thorough in these decisions and observed all angles accordingly.

“The judge immediately had the various judicial departments look at the jail log to determine who could be released to home confinement, early parole or probation or early release,” Kline said. “It was actually a big savings to the county.

And that move also benefited attorneys, according to Bloomsburg attorney Pat O’Connell.

O’Connell said many pre-trial motions are being done virtually, which is a preventive measure to fight against COVID-19. He believes this also has long-lasting effects on the court system which could make it more efficient for everyone involved.

O’Connell also said he believes judges are looking at lesser crime cases and making the proper decisions in not sending people to jail for those minor offenses. This is crucial in cases like these where it could cause prisons to be so full there would be no room for entering inmates.

“The judges have been criticized for being more lenient in sentences because they do not want people to go to jail during this,” he said.

O’Connell and Kline believe things in the court system will remain until it is determined COVID-19 is well under control.

Featured image via PAHomepage

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