There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic and statewide responses to it have upended the way criminal justice matters are being handled. The question is whether current processes are helping or hindering those charged with or convicted of state or federal crimes. Attorney Bruce A. Barket of Barket Epstein Kearon Aldea & LoTurco, LLP was interviewed by several different news outlets to discuss the state of the judicial system and provide legal insight into how current processes are affecting the lives of alleged and/or convicted offenders.
Change in Judicial Proceedings
Attorney Barket was interviewed by Newsday and News 12 Long Island to discuss how the change in proceedings by courts in New York counties has affected those awaiting trial. Currently, non-essential court matters have been suspended, and only arraignments and emergency proceedings are allowed. And while this lets people who have been newly arrested be arraigned and possibly have bail set, it's not a feasible long-term solution.
Attorney Barket said that postponing trials for cases is a solution for a short-term crisis, like a snowstorm. However, when such measures are implemented for more lasting matters, like the COVID-19 pandemic, the right to a speedy trial is suspended. This means some people might have to wait in jail for lengthy periods.
Lack of Coronavirus Testing in Prisons
Another matter related to the COVID-19 pandemic Attorney Barket was interviewed about was that involving testing for the virus in prisons. Thousands of inmates are housed in state and federal prisons. However, only a few have been tested to determine whether or not they have been infected with the disease.
Of course, with such little testing being done, the numbers of infected inmates will appear to be small. For instance, the New York Daily News stated that a Bureau of Prisons report revealed that 4 of 700 inmates tested positive for COVID-19 at the Manhattan Metropolitan Correctional Center. That number seems low, but when only 5 inmates were actually examined, it suggests that many more may be carriers.
Attorney Barket told the New York Daily News that inadequate testing at the prisons was "criminal" and questioned the process of only examining a few inmates.
Seeking Early Release for Some Inmates
Even if only small numbers of infections are being reported, COVID-19 is making its way through the prison system. With inmates living in cramped quarters, practicing social distancing to slow the spread of the disease in these facilities is nearly impossible. Additionally, prisons often lack adequate resources to treat ill inmates, which means if they become infected with COVID-19, getting the care they need will be challenging.
What can be done to help inmates who may be susceptible to the disease? That was one of the questions Attorney Barket answered on Law and Crime Network’s COVID-19 Law Q&A Facebook LIVE series hosted by Brian Ross, where he is a recurring guest. Amanda Knox and Reform Alliance’s Erin Haney also appeared in the episode. The three discussed topics ranging from the hazardous conditions of prisons to the legal options that can be explored to seek early release of inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At Barket Epstein Kearon Aldea & LoTurco, LLP, our team has over 200 years of experience, and we are often sought for legal insight into various matters. If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime or is incarcerated in New York, contact us at (888) 779-0267 to discuss your case.