Anyone in Seattle facing criminal charges but is currently an out-of-custody defendant likely will not have a hearing anytime soon.

According to a recent article in The Seattle Times, the state Supreme Court issued an emergency order for criminal hearings. Chief Justice Debra Stephens issued the emergency order, which postpones hearings for out-of-custody defendants in the state. In addition to postponing hearings, the emergency order also provides for the release of certain defendants. More specifically, jail inmates who are especially vulnerable to coronavirus may be eligible for release. The emergency order allows trial court judges to suspend court rules to address health concerns arising out of the pandemic. The emergency order took immediate effect.

Prior to the emergency order, criminal jury trials in parts of Washington State had been postponed until April 24, 2020.

That suspension affected people facing criminal charges in King County, Snohomish County, and Pierce County. However, many other counties in the state did not order similar criminal jury trial suspensions. Accordingly, many commentators saw the emergency order as a necessity. The emergency order also has a provision for its extension beyond April 24 if necessary.

According to the emergency order, the requirement that all courts close became necessary. Although courts postponed hearings and trials in some counties, other courts in Washington State carried on. The emergency order ensures consistency across the state in an attempt to combat the public health crisis of COVID-19. Indeed, many courtrooms in Seattle and across the state are small. As such, appropriate social distancing cannot occur within them. Attorneys, judges, and other court employees voiced concerns about the coronavirus spreading due to courtroom interactions.

In addition to out-of-custody defendants, criminal hearings for in-custody defendants have also been postponed.

Anyone in custody who is facing criminal charges will not get a hearing until April 24 at the earliest. However, first appearances continue to take place. Accordingly, judges will still hear motions for pretrial release and bail modifications. Yet Washington residents facing criminal charges may be wondering if the emergency order violates rights to a speedy trial.

According to Seattle criminal defense lawyer Lennard A. Nahajski, “this situation is largely without precedent.” As such, defendants awaiting trial should speak with their criminal defense lawyer about their rights. Local rules sometimes account for emergency situations, but rights to a speedy trial under Washington State and federal law could arise. Even out-of-custody defendants may be facing anxiety over the uncertainty of a trial date.


Contact Nahajski Law today to discuss your case.