From a series of seven panel workshops on lessons learned from how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the criminal justice system, this report focuses on the proceedings of one panel workshop that involved judges, court administrators, prosecutors, defense counsel, and academics in discussing how the pandemic has impacted the court system.
Participants represented jurisdictions that are geographically dispersed and included representatives from individual courts, statewide court systems, and cross-cutting organizations with a national-level perspective. A separate community workshop provided input on the broader effects of changes made by court systems and the justice system generally. In discussing why the COVID-19 pandemic has been so challenging for court systems, the workshop discussed the large number of people who interact in the court system and the importance of time factors in the processing of cases. The workshop noted that in addressing the challenges posed to court management by the pandemic and prevention of the spread of the virus, court systems have taken a variety of steps, some of which involve major changes in how courts have traditionally functioned. Various types of courts have faced challenges distinctive to the types of cases they process. Some steps courts have taken include the use of “virtual” court transactions that maintain social distancing but raise concerns about the transparency of court proceedings and the rights of defendants. The cost and complexity of technological changes are also concerns. On the positive side, virtual models improve efficiency and access to justice by making it easier and less costly for individuals to participate in court procedures. They also improve interactions between courts and corrections facilities. This report lists questions posed by the workshop panel that might be used in evaluating the effects of adaptations of court procedures to comply with health maintenance requirements due to the pandemic.