By JONAH LOSSIAH
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Late Friday morning, Friday, March 13, North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley ordered that most district and superior court cases be continued for at least 30 days starting on Monday, March 16.
The decision comes in response to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. On Thursday, March 12, Governor Roy Cooper recommended that there be no congregation of more than 100 people in a space due to the risk of spreading the virus, and this shift is directly related to the governor’s wishes.
“We must weigh the benefit of our court services against the need to protect North Carolinians from exposure to the coronavirus,” said Chief Justice Beasley.
The are many exceptions to this order, including all ongoing trials. Those cases will continue to be heard. This action is being used to drastically reduce traffic in the courts.
“Preliminary criminal proceedings, such as bond and probable cause hearings, will continue to be held. All victims of domestic violence will continue to have access to the courts, and protective orders will continue to be processed. Magistrates will continue to issue warrants and will perform marriages. Proceedings that go before the clerk, such as estate administrations, guardianships, commitments and other special proceedings will in fact continue. Finally, it is important to the extent that certain hearings can be held remotely by telephone or video conference. The Chief Justice’s order leaves room for judges to exercise their discretion in setting and conducting those hearings remotely,” said McKinley Wooten, Jr., Director of NC Administrative Office of the Courts.
The courts are not closing, but Beasley said that this will affect thousands of cases state-wide. She understands that people will have questions regarding their cases, and she said providing notices to those effected will be of a high priority.
“Our paramount concerns have been striking the balance between due process rights and constitutional rights as well as we’re protecting the rights of the victim and defendants in civil and criminal cases, and also thinking about the health concerns of the public as well as those who work in our judicial system,” said Beasley.
With so many people coming into the courts daily, Beasley says the last thing they want to do is to increase risk of spreading COVID-19. However, they must do what they can to ensure protection of rights.
“We also want people who are sick or believe that they have been exposed to the coronavirus to avoid coming to court. And encourage judicial officials to be liberal in using their discretion to grant relief to people who are unable to come to court.”
Currently, the EBCI Tribal Court is assessing their options. They are not under the jurisdiction of the N.C. Judicial system, and therefore will need to make any decisions separately.
EBCI Chief Justice Kirk Saunooke released an order Friday afternoon and it is taking near identical precautions. It states the following:
“All court proceeding scheduled between March 16 and April 23 shall be continued to the May 2020 term of Court or as soon thereafter as may be practicable.”
The following proceedings are exempt from the Tribal Court’s order and will continue if possible:
- Proceedings that may be conducted remotely.
- Proceedings necessary to preserve the right to due process of law (e .g., a first appearance or bond hearing, the appointment of counsel for an indigent defendant, a probation hearing, a probable cause hearing, etc.).
- Proceedings for the purpose of obtaining emergency relief (e.g., a domestic violence protection order, temporary restraining order, juvenile custody order, judicial consent to juvenile medical treatment order, civil commitment order, etc.).
For those that have questions regarding NC courts, you may visit https://www.nccourts.gov/ to receive updates and additional information moving forward.