How will the COVID-19 Virus Impact my Criminal Case?

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March 25, 2020

By: Cody N. Guarnieri, Esq

Various states have begun to take measures to reduce prison populations in light of the risk of the COVID-19 virus. Of course, social distancing is not possible for inmates, who live in close quarters with hundreds or thousands of their fellow inmates. Moreover, the nature of prisons, as a containment area, undoubtedly increases the risk that if (or when) the COVID-19 makes its way into an institution, it will wreak havoc. NBC Connecticut reporters Jim Mustian and Joshua Goodman describe state correctional institutions well in noting that "America's nearly 7,000 jails, prisons and correction facilities are an ideal breeding ground for the virus, as dangerous as nursing homes and cruise ships but far less sanitary."

The Connecticut Department of Corrections has taken various measures to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak throughout state correctional institutions. As of March 13, 2020, social visits with inmates were suspended, along with various work, vocational training and other programs that bring inmates in contact with the public. Moreover, the Department of Corrections has cancelled all non-emergency medical visits for inmates. However, no specific information is available to date to suggest an influx of commutations or paroles, to directly reduce the low risk prison populations in the state.

In view of the situation with the Connecticut Department of Corrections, a burning question for those who are involved in the Connecticut criminal justice system is whether the COVID-19 virus will affect whether they will be sentenced to a period of incarceration. Put another way, does the COVID-19 pandemic make it less likely that a defendant will be sentenced to jail time? Does the COVID-19 virus affect a criminal defendant's case at all?

The answer to these questions are complicated. As of this writing, court operations are severely curtailed in Connecticut, with only those matters deemed to be the most emergent in nature being heard before a judge. Few courthouses remain open presently. From a procedural perspective, it is very likely that the COVID-19 pandemic has and will result in significant delays before many criminal matters will be resolved.

One likely effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on a criminal defendant's case is its use as mitigation. This is to say, the possible impact of COVID-19 on those defendants who are immunocompromised, elderly or have significant health issues may be meaningful. These defendants may be able to credibly argue to the State and the court that they are more susceptible or in greater peril of the virus, which merits some consideration in the outcome of the case. This form of COVID-19 mitigation information should be developed through the defendant's medical providers. It is important to consider the influence of the COVID-19 virus on the case and sentence as early as possible, to have the greatest opportunity to develop it adequately before presenting it to the court.

The overall effects of COVID-19 on our criminal justice system remains to be seen. However, in the midst of this unprecedented public health issue, it is important for criminal defendants to contemplate the role it may play on the outcome of their case. If you have questions about how the COVID-19 virus may impact a criminal investigation, prosecution or possible sentence of incarceration, do not hesitate to call or email me at (860) 522-3343 or [email protected].