The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily changed the way we do many things, like shopping, working, and doing business. The courts got caught in the crosshairs of the situation because people have legal rights, and those rights sometimes clashed with the public health emergency.
Some cases get automatically dismissed if not resolved within 365 days of filing. When courts get closed, it can be impossible to meet those deadlines. Our South Carolina courts had to get creative and find different ways to balance fundamental American rights with public safety. A South Carolina personal injury attorney can explain how to have your day in court when the courts are closed: alternatives to court during the COVID pandemic.
Different Courts – Different Rules
Courthouse operations have varied by county. One county might allow in-person hearings but require that everyone who wants to enter the building wear a mask. Another county might only allow emergency hearings and not routine matters. Within the same county, the circuit court might be holding regular hearings, while the probate court might only allow hearings to take place by teleconference or videoconference.
Measures That South Carolina Courthouses Have Used to Deal with COVID
The approaches that our courts have utilized are constantly in flux. Some courthouses closed, then reopened, then closed again when there was a local surge in new COVID cases. You will want to check with the specific courthouse before going to the building to find out their current measures.
Here are some of the ways that South Carolina has tried to address the pandemic as it pertains to courthouse operations:
- Initially, some courthouses closed down, except for essential personnel.
- Some courthouses required people entering the building to wear masks and stay at least six feet apart.
- People with observable symptoms of COVID were not allowed to enter the building.
- Some courts take the temperature of everyone coming inside the facility.
- Some courts use a questionnaire before someone can come inside, asking questions about things like the individual’s exposure in the last 14 days to anyone with COVID and the entering person’s symptoms during the same time.
- Some courts only hold hearings remotely, by videoconference or teleconference.
- Some courts changed local procedural rules to allow people to file papers and make payments by telephone, email, regular U.S. Mail, and facsimile transmission.
- Some courts changed the location of hearings, for example, to a local civic center, to make social distancing possible during court sessions.
- Many courts suspended jury trials for many months. When jury trials resumed, the courthouses made logistical modifications to accomplish social distancing and minimize the risk of COVID for jurors.
- On criminal matters, courts have conducted hearings in jail cases remotely to avoid the risk of transmission of COVID during the transportation, waiting, and hearing phases of the process.
- Some courts that are holding in-person hearings limit the number of people in the courtroom, for example, only three defendants in the courtroom at a time, and everyone in the courtroom must wear a mask at all times.
- Some county courthouses have fully reopened. Some do not post any restrictions whatsoever, like masks, temperature checks, social distancing, or limiting the number of people allowed inside a courtroom simultaneously.
- In some counties, people can file pleadings and other papers with the court or make payments in person by using a drop box outside of the office doors. If they want personal assistance, people can call ahead or knock on the front door of the courthouse.
As you can see, the situation can be confusing and frustrating. The legal system is gradually returning to normal operations, but there is great variety from one courthouse to another and even within different divisions of the same courthouse. A South Carolina personal injury attorney can help you get your day in court and protect your legal rights. Contact our office today.