On Tuesday, March 23, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a stay-at-home order and informed residents to avoid in-person contact, including in the workplace, through April 13 to deter the spread of COVID-19. Only grocery stores, restaurants offering delivery and take out options, gas stations, banks, and pharmacies remain open, while other businesses remain closed.
But what about the criminal courthouses? Are criminal proceedings still being carried out? This blog post answers some of the most frequently answered questions about COVID-19 and Michigan criminal law.
Are criminal courthouses open?
The Michigan Supreme Court issued an emergency order on March 18, ordering trial courts throughout the state to only allow no more than 10 persons, including staff members, in courtrooms and other spaces until April 3, 2020. In order words, Michigan courthouses are closed to the public but remain open for emergency hearings and essential functions.
The following are considered essential functions:
- Certain criminal proceedings, juvenile delinquency cases, or PPO violations
- Restraining order requests
- Emergency family law matters related to a child’s safety and well-being
- Infectious disease hearings
- Involuntary commitment proceedings
- Other general civil, family, business, district court (e.g. traffic, debt collection, landlord/tenant matters, etc.), and probate court issues that can be completed remotely using video-conferencing technology
If summoned by the court to attend a hearing, you can leave your home and attend legal proceedings. If you have a scheduled hearing that could be deemed essential, contact the courthouse to determine your next steps.
Are inmates being released early?
As of March 21, inmates from the Clinton and Ingham county jails have been granted release to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus in the jails. Among those releases were low-level offenders, high -risk medical inmates, and inmates who had each already served the majority of their sentence.
On Friday, March 20, Ingham County’s jail population was 303, compared to 376 on Monday. Clinton County’s jail population was 150 on Friday, while the jail’s capacity is 236.
As of March 20, Eaton County jail has yet to release any inmates. Many county jails throughout the state have either released non-violent and high-risk medical inmates, others are considering such measures.
All in-person visits have been stopped.
What happens if I disobey the Michigan-wide stay-at-home order?
Unless you work for an essential business or service, you are directed to remain in your home. You are allowed to spend time outside and perform necessary tasks such as grocery shopping or refilling your prescription medication while remaining six feet apart from any person.
Failure to comply with the statewide stay-at-home order, like performing nonessential functions outdoors or hosting a gathering at your home, could result in an arrest. The penalties include a maximum 90-day jail term and a fine of up to $500.
What other common crimes have happened since the COVID-19 quarantine?
Since basic goods such as hand sanitizer and toilet paper have been in significant demand lately, many people attempt to buy them in bulk and then later sell them at a much higher price. However, Michigan law prohibits anyone from “price gouging,” which is charging a price that is extremely higher than the original value. This is a violation of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.
Because families are forced to stay home all day, there should be an increase in domestic violence arrests. According to Axios, the number of domestic violence cases reported to a police station in Jingzhou (China) had tripled in February, in comparison to the same period last year.
Theft crimes will most likely take place. Since unemployment is at an all-time high, many people cannot afford the things they need to survive, resulting in a theft crime out of desperation.
Lastly, the Justice Department released a memo to charge individuals who intentionally spread COVID-19 with terrorism. According to the memo, the virus could be defined as a “biological agent.”
Brandon Gardner & Associates, PLC Remains Open & Committed to Fighting for You
Since criminal proceedings are still ongoing, arrests are being processed, and court hearings are being held, our Lansing legal team remains open and available through phone or pre-scheduled video conferencing. We understand that these are frightening and unexpected times, which is why we are still here to protect your rights and freedom, as well as provide flexible payment options.
If you have recently been arrested or charged with a crime in Lansing, call us today at (616) 303-7444 and request a free consultation.