Attorney Shawn Dominy founder of the Dominy Law Firm and president of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers outlines the recommendations being made for reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the criminal justice system. For more information please visit https://www.dominylaw.com
— In a recent interview, attorney Shawn Dominy founder of the Dominy Law Firm and president of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers discussed the recommendations being made for reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the criminal justice system.
For more information please visit https://www.dominylaw.com/
Dominy is attuned to the prevalence of COVID-19 in that state. He commented, “The Ohio Director of Health recently indicated the number of people infected with the virus, just in Ohio, is about 1000,000 – and that number is doubling approximately every six days.” That state has restricted gatherings of more than 50 people and has also closed schools and many types of business in an effort to encourage social distancing to limit the spread of the virus.
Dominy said the concern about coronavirus contraction in the criminal justice system includes jails, prisons and courts. Dominy estimated there are about 20,000 people in Ohio jails and nearly 50,000 people in Ohio prisons. That is only one state: there are hundreds of thousands more in jails and prisons throughout the nation. Dominy commented, “We are familiar with the problem of coronavirus infection on cruise ships. The environment in penal institutions is essentially the same: large groups of people in close quarters who cannot leave.”
Courts are also places where the virus can spread quickly. There is a constant churn of people in and out of the courthouses, those people come into close contact with each other, and there are many doors and surfaces on which the virus may live and infect others. The risk of contraction extends to everybody in the court system, from judges and court personnel to lawyers and parties.
The Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers issued a statement calling for prompt and effective action by government officials to limit the spread of COVID-19 in jails, prisons and courts. The statement referenced studies which explain how viruses enter jails and prisons and other studies which indicate those institutions have unique difficulties in containing the virus. Dominy said, “The difficulties are illustrated by the problems experienced with the coronavirus among penal institutions in China and Iran.”
The statement by the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers made specific proposals for action steps to be taken. Among the proposed steps are:
- At bail hearings, issue recognizance bonds unless there is clear and convincing evidence that recognizance release would present a substantial risk of harm
- Decline to issue “failure to appear” warrants and instead reschedule court appearances
- If requested by defense counsel, waive defendants' appearances for all pretrial hearings
- Change all probation and pretrial supervision meetings to phone reporting
- Ensure defendants in custody receive a speedy trial
- Impose sentences with a presumption the sentence will be noncustodial unless there is clear and convincing evidence that release would present a substantial risk of harm
- Release all incarcerated individuals who are in a high-risk category for being infected with the virus (the elderly, those with asthma, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes) unless there is clear and convincing evidence that release would present a substantial risk of harm
- For individuals incarcerated for misdemeanor offenses, release them and place them on community control sanctions unless there is clear and convincing evidence that release would present a substantial risk of harm
- Limit arrests and instead issue summonses whenever arrest is not clearly necessary for safety
Screen arrested persons for COVID-19 exposure before transportation to a jail or booking facility
The proposals were delivered to several government officials, and Dominy is hopeful the proposals will be adopted. He said, “Our health officials have made clear the seriousness of the pandemic and the importance of taking effective action. By implementing the proposals, government officials can protect everyone involved in the court system, the jails and the prisons.”
Release ID: 88951138