(Last Updated: April 23, 2019)
As the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has spread across the country, it is having significant implications across the Florida Criminal Justice System.
Covid-19 Cases Are Spiking Across Florida’s Criminal Justice System
According to floridapolitics.com:
The new coronavirus is continuing to infect police, prisoners and caseworkers throughout Florida, according to new data released by state agencies.
Monday saw another Florida Highway Patrol employee test positive for COVID-19, the respiratory condition caused by the coronavirus.
Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles spokesman Aaron Keller said the new case is in Palm Beach County. The employee is not a state trooper.
The positive is the fourth at FHP. Three state troopers had previously tested positive, one each in the Miami, Lake Worth and Panama City troops.
The same day, the Department of Juvenile Justice said 15 employees had tested positive for the disease, an increase of five over the weekend. A third of the cases are at Broward Regional Juvenile Detention Center.
There are now three employee cases at the Miami Youth Academy, where DJJ said four juveniles had tested positive last week. As of Monday, it is the only facility where youths have tested positive.
Other facilities where employees tested positive: Broward Youth Treatment Center, Daytona Juvenile Residential Facility, DOVE Academy, Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center, Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Center and Pinellas Regional Juvenile Detention Center.
The employee infections at FHP and DJJ come as the state prison system also grapples with a spike in cases among inmates and employees alike.
On Monday evening, Florida Department of Corrections data showed 119 prisoners and 84 employees had tested positive to date. The pandemic has now crept into more than 50 prisons across the state. The inmate caseload comes from just 378 tests, 99 of which are pending results.
Tomoka Correctional Institution in Daytona Beach saw a dramatic spike over the weekend, jumping from a handful of cases on Friday to 54 on Monday, including 47 inmates and 7 employees.
Tomoka has now surpassed Blackwater River Correctional Facility, a private prison in Milton, for the most cases at a DOC facility. As of Monday, Blackwater had 52 positives, 42 of them inmates. An outbreak is also underway at Sumter Correctional Institution in Bushnell, where 27 inmates and 4 employees have COVID-19.
The only other facility to hit double digits is South Bay Correctional Facility where one inmate and nine employees have tested positive.
DOC says more than 4,000 inmates are being quarantined due to close contact with a confirmed case. Another 99 are being held in medical isolation because of close contact with a confirmed case.
The Florida Supreme Court
The Florida Supreme Court has extended COVID-19 emergency measures through May:
Florida’s Chief Justice Charles Canady issued a new emergency order April 6 suspending jury trials in Florida and extending other state legal deadlines through the end of May because of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
This action lengthens a prior order that had set the ending date for emergency pandemic court procedures at mid-April.
The April 6 order combines provisions of several previous administrative orders into a single document. It emphasizes the need for courts to continue applying social distancing and to use remote technology to help keep people safe while also honoring legal requirements.
Among other things, the April 6 order:
- Suspends all jury selection proceedings and grand juries.
- Lists other essential and critical proceedings that state courts must continue to perform with appropriate health safeguards, while limiting hearings in other cases.
- Suspends speedy trial rules for criminal matters and noncriminal traffic infractions.
- Suspends a rule requiring clerks of court to immediately issue paperwork to sheriffs when a final judgment is made in eviction cases.
- Extends emergency changes to notarization and oath requirements.
- Extends health-related limits on court-ordered family visitation involving children in the custody of the Florida Department of Children & Families, including allowing visitation by remote electronic means in some instances.
The Chief Justice will review this and other COVID-19 orders as the pandemic emergency develops and will extend them for longer periods if needed.
This and other emergency orders and advisories are being linked on the Florida Supreme Court’s website:
*All information above was obtained from the Supreme Court of Florida social media platforms.
Check The Florida Bar’s COVID-19 page at for daily updates including sections on court announcements, Florida Bar announcements, and member and consumer resources.
(Source: The Florida Bar Criminal Law Section)
Palm Beach County
Additionally, the Palm Beach Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (PBACDL) has urged Palm Beach County officials to reduce jail populations amid the outbreak. In a recent message to members, the PBACDL said:
Earlier today, PBACDL–along with the ACLU of Florida, FACDL, the Office of the Public Defender for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, and other organizations–sent a letter to Palm Beach County officials urging them to take immediate steps to minimize the exposure of incarcerated individuals and employees to COVID-19 in Palm Beach County. The letter is attached to this email and is available at the following link:
The letter is addressed to both Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and State Attorney Dave Aronberg, and comes in response to reports that two Palm Beach County jail deputies have tested positive for COVID-19, and reports that Palm Beach County leads Florida in the number of people who have died of COVID-19.
Demands in the letter include: (1) decreasing the number of individuals coming into the jail by issuing notices to appear for all misdemeanors or ordinance violations; (2) disclosing to the public the number of tests given to both inmates and employees as well as the results of those tests; (3) releasing individuals on non-monetary conditions if their bail is currently set at $10,000 or less; and (4) permitting the immediate release of those charged with misdemeanors and non-violent felonies or a technical violation of probation.
The spread of COVID-19 has been unprecedented and presents a significant danger to everyone–particularly those who are vulnerable like the incarcerated. PBACDL hopes through this letter that PBC officials will take bold action to mitigate the spread of the virus to protect our community.
Despite Coronavirus (COVID-19), know that we are still here representing those who need us! If you or a loved one needs assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact our office right away to review your case and discuss your options.
Compassionate Release for Covid-19
Federal law authorizes the Bureau of Prisons to allow certain inmates to request “Compassionate Release” which allows for early release from Federal prisons under “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances. Additionally, the First Step Act may allow judges to release federal inmates during this pandemic, especially those with serious illnesses or conditions or those that are vulnerable to respiratory issues that can be particularly harmful if infected with the Coronavirus. If you would like assistance filing a motion for Compassionate Release, throughout Florida, due to Coronavirus or COVID-19, please contact our office to discuss your specific case. Our consultations are free.