Florida courts are on track to start lifting COVID-19 restrictions and resume jury trials under an order released by Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady Friday.
Canady’s order will allow chief judges to lift face mask requirements and social distancing measures while in proceedings as soon as June 21, according to the order, and no later than Aug. 2.
Within the order, Canady cites improved health measurements, increased vaccination rates and updated official health guidance as prompting the change.
The order also reflects the recommendations made by the Workgroup on the Continuity of Court Operations and Proceedings During and After COVID-19 created by Canady last year.
“At this time, effective vaccines for COVID-19 are adequately available in Florida for persons ages 12 and older; almost half of this state’s population has been partially or fully vaccinated; and government-issued health standards and guidance provide that fully vaccinated persons do not need to wear face masks or physically distance in most indoor and outdoor settings unless required by federal, state, or local laws, rules, or regulations,” the order reads.
The order prioritizes jury trials, with criminal trials taking precedence. It will direct most other proceedings to still be conducted remotely in order to focus facility and other resources on in-person trials.
“Trial court proceedings shall continue to be remotely conducted, as appropriate, to facilitate the efficient and expeditious processing of cases,” the order reads. “Participants who have the capability of participating by electronic means in remote appellate or trial court proceedings must do so.”
The order also ends the current suspension of speedy-trial law and establishes a schedule for speedy-trial requirements to resume.
According to the order, speedy-trial provisions will resume on Oct. 4 for adult and juvenile defendants taken into custody before March 14, 2020. For adult defendants taken into custody after March 14, 2020, speedy-trial provisions will resume Jan. 3, 2022.
This order comes after most in-person court events were suspended starting in March 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Supreme Court of Florida, judges around the state are expected to dispose of 3 million cases in 2020-2021 by the conclusion of the fiscal year later this month.