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COVID-19’s Impact on Oregon’s Justice System and What You Need to Know

Serving Families Throughout Bend
coronavirus closures in oregon courts and legal system

With the recent spread of COVID-19, many individuals are wondering what's going to happen with their criminal cases and what to do about their court hearings, along with many other concerns. At Baxter Law, LLC, we wanted to take the time to answer some of those questions and explain everything you need to know to ensure that your criminal case is handled during this pandemic.

What's Happening with Oregon Courts During COVID-19?

On November 17, 2020, Governor Kate Brown issued a statewide “freeze” restricting events involving groups of people. The freeze is in effect from November 18, 2020 to December 2, 2020.

In response to the Governor’s most recent action, Chief Justice Martha Walters issued Chief Justice Order 20-047, which is effective November 19, 2020 through December 4, 2020. CJO 20-047 orders most legal proceedings to take place remotely and limits the types of cases that can be conducted in person.

In accordance with CJO 20-047, the Deschutes County Circuit Court will limit in-person proceedings for criminal cases to:

  • Criminal trials
  • Juvenile delinquency trials
  • Arraignments
  • First appearances for temporary stalking orders

Although in-person proceedings may be held, remote hearings are encouraged where feasible and lawful. In matters where in-person proceedings take place, all parties must practice social distancing, wear face coverings (unless they are exempt), and adhere to all other measures to protect the safety of court workers and visitors.

Any proceedings other than those listed above and those classified as Category 1 and Category 2 must occur remotely.

I Have to Travel Out of State for My Hearing. What Now?

According to the Chief Justice Order, out-of-state, work-related travel, and meetings of 5 or more people are forbidden. Larger hearings will need to be handled remotely or rescheduled completely.

My Loved One Is in Jail. Will They Be Let Free?

Because one of the main focuses for jails is to prevent COVID-19 from spreading through the jail systems, Oregon is looking for ways to decrease to jail population. Judges, along with district attorneys, criminal defense lawyers, and law enforcement officials, are working to identify those who may be eligible for early release.

If feasible and permitted by law, criminal defense attorneys may present motions for release remotely.

If a loved one is currently in an Oregon jail for a non-violent offense, they could be released early because of current responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Speak with a member of our team today by calling (541) 238-9210 to learn more about how we can help.

What About the Office of Administrative Hearings?

The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) is going to be significantly decreasing the number of hearings that it's conducting from now until the end of April of 2020. Sources say that the OAH will be doing the majority of its hearings over the phone, as 80% of its hearings take place that way anyway.

In-person hearings will be converted to over-the-phone hearings, where applicable by law. It's important to note that document-sensitive and lengthy hearings are not typically allowed over the phone. Those hearings will likely be postponed.

Additionally, some hearings are required to be conducted in person. The OAH will attempt to hold these as usual. The agency also noted that you can request to have your hearing postponed or converted to an over-the-phone hearing by contacting its offices.

What Is Social Distancing?

For those still required to attend their hearings in person, it's important to understand the principles of social distancing. It is a preventative measure being used across the nation to help decrease exposure to and slow the spread of the coronavirus to help "flatten the curve."

What you need to know about social distancing:

  • You are required to maintain at least 6 feet between yourself and others at all times
  • You must avoid all physical contact with others

About the "Stay-at-Home Order"

On March 8, 2020, in response to the fast-spreading COVID-19 disease, Governor Kate Brown declared a state of emergency in Oregon. She enacted various measures to flatten the curve, which included social distancing guidelines and the closure of non-essential businesses. In early May, Brown extended the orders until July 6, 2020.

On May 18, 2020, Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew Shirtcliff ruled that Brown's extension was unconstitutional. He stated that during public health emergencies, the governor's orders have a 28-day time limit and actions taken beyond that must go through legislators. As such, Brown's extended measures were void. The ruling could mean huge changes for Oregon. 

Brown appealed Shirtcliff's opinion with the Oregon Supreme Court, stating that her orders were enacted and extended to protect the health and safety of all Oregonians. Within 8 hours of the filing, the Supreme Court halted Shirtcliff's ruling, meaning Brown's orders will remain in effect until the Supreme Court has had time to review the case and make a final decision. Attorneys for both sides have until May 22nd to submit their arguments.

Baxter Law, LLC Is Here to Help During These Hard Times

Although we answered some of the most common questions individuals going through the justice system have, we understand that there is still a lot of uncertainty, and you might want some additional clarification.

If you have any questions at all regarding the status of your criminal case, how to move forward following an arrest, or what can be done to help a loved one, our Bend, OR team can help.

Contact us today by calling (541) 238-9210 to learn more about how we can help. We can get through these tough times together.