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State courts limit in-person proceedings in light of COVID-19

The Lowell Justice Center (SUN/Julia Malakie)
The Lowell Justice Center (SUN/Julia Malakie)

Even state courts are closing doors as coronavirus, or COVID-19, spreads in Massachusetts.

All court dates have been suspended until at least April 6, and the Supreme Judicial Court has limited in-person proceedings to emergency matters that cannot be heard by videoconference or telephone.

“Recognizing that this is an evolving situation, we have been in constant communication to establish a plan that will safeguard due process rights of defendants, ensure that victims of crime receive justice and protect the safety of our law enforcement personnel,” a news release by the Middlesex District Attorney’s office reads.

The plan includes issuing summonses for arraignments when possible, and “making arrests only where there is no public safety alternative,” according to the release.

Non-emergency arraignments will be conducted remotely. Criminal and civil trials scheduled to occur between now and April 17 will be continued until at least April 21, according to an order by the Supreme Judicial Court.

Civil bench trials that can be conducted otherwise may be an exception, upon agreement by all parties and the court.

Jury trials that began before the order was announced on March 17 will be declared a mistrial, the order states. Where appropriate, defendants in criminal cases may request reconsideration of bail or conditions of release.

The Middlesex DA’s office is in the process of reaching out to individuals directly about the status of their cases, according to a news release. The DA’s office also encourages defendants and their family members to contact their attorneys.

The Middlesex DA’s office is working with Sheriff Peter Koutoujian and the Committee for Public Counsel Services to review the bail status of those with specific health concerns, the release states.

All standing restraining orders will remain in effect until a new court date is scheduled. Emergency restraining orders can be granted at local police departments.

Survivors of rape and domestic assault can seek help by calling SafeLink at 877-785-2020, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. Find more information about Jane Doe Inc. and the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance at

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