Massachusetts Courts COVID-19 Protocols
Updated June 29, 2020
Tl;dr: It Depends.
After a few months of (relative) stability in a state of near-total judicial shutdown, lawyers and courts are getting better at doing remote hearings, and the courts are starting to reopen. Here’s a summary of where we stand.
Some courthouses are (still) not obeying their departments’ standing orders. Some clerks (still) are not obeying their courthouses’ protocols. When in doubt, call the court, call your lawyer, and try to be flexible.
This post is meant as a guide to how things are (supposed to be) working according to the best information we currently have.
As of July 1, 2020, all state
court deadlines are un-suspended.
However many days were left to comply with a court rule, scheduling order, or statute of limitations as of March 17, that same number of days is left on July 1, and will start to count down again.
Extremely Limited Court Reopening Starts July 13
- Outstanding arrest warrants can often be cleared by phone or email! Just contact the court and let them know you need to clear a warrant. If it’s nothing serious, they’ll probably clear it for you and give you a date to appear in the fall. That said, it looks like District Court will start allowing in-person warrant removals July 13, and we don’t know whether they’ll stop doing them remotely.
- Jury Trials will not resume until September 8.
- Bench trials resume July 13. Criminal trials will happen in person. Civil trials may happen in person or via Zoom.
- Effective immediately, all persons visiting courthouses are permitted to bring their cell phones and other electronics.
- Mask compliance is strictly required for all persons appearing in any state trial court.
- When bail is posted outside of court, it can be done by Paypal or Venmo.
District Court will conduct the following proceedings in person starting July 13:
- Arraignments, bail/detention hearings, and warrant removals.
- Emergency petitions for civil commitment under Section 12 and Section 35 (emergency mental health and substance abuse commitments).
- Criminal pleas, bench trials, and motions to suppress evidence, but only where the Defendant is in custody, either side requests an in-person hearing, and the judge agrees.
- Violation of Probation hearings where either side requests an in-person hearing and the judge agrees.
- In some cases, some people may attend a hearing in person while others attend via Zoom.
- Only essential parties (and media representatives) can enter courtrooms.
- Court officers will limit the total capacity of courthouses to preserve physical distancing.
- Routine criminal and civil hearings will be held virtually. Criminal defendants will not be expected to attend routine “non-critical” hearings.
Boston Municipal Court
The BMC will conduct the following hearings in person:
- Custody arraignments
- Detention hearings
- Warrant removals
- Criminal guilty pleas
- Final probation surrender hearings (but contested hearings won’t start until August 10)
- Section 35 commitment hearings
- Criminal evidentiary hearings, such as motions to suppress evidence, after August 10
- Specialty Courts, such as Drug Court, Gun Court, and Mental Health Court, after August 10.
Show cause hearings are still postponed indefinitely. Criminal pleas and evidentiary hearings may happen over Zoom with the consent of the judge, but only if the defendant swears under oath that COVID-19 didn’t affect their decision making (I wish I were making that up).
Superior Court will begin holding in-person hearings for:
- Criminal arraignments
- Criminal guilty pleas
- Criminal bench trials
- Evidentiary hearings on criminal motions
- Criminal probation violation proceedings that require witnesses
- Civil Bench Trials
- Civil Evidentiary Hearings
Probate and Family Court
Probate and Family Court issued a vague order saying that they can do some stuff in person, if the judge thinks it’s important.
Middlesex, Essex, and Barnstable Counties have Zoom Registries of Probate.
The Housing Court is not immediately contemplating any in-person hearings except by special permission of the First Justice.
The eviction moratorium is still in effect. For details about what “emergency evictions” are still permitted, contact a housing lawyer.
- The Land Court is closed to the public until July 13. They’d like to remind you that they see very, very few emergencies. It’s not clear what, if anything, they’re planning to start doing after July 13.
US District Court
- Pursuant to the CARES act, most proceedings are being held by video or rescheduled. Criminal proceedings can only happen by video if the judge orders it and the defendant consents.
- Call your lawyer for details.
- If you don’t have a lawyer, call the court.