PPE mask and gavel resting on Judge's bench

COVID-19 Affects Westchester County DWI & Criminal Court Cases

FAQ: DWI & Criminal Court Reopenings

COVID-19, commonly referred to as the coronavirus, has resulted in significant changes to how the New York State court system operates. Westchester County’s state court system is organized into Supreme and County Courts located in White Plains at 111 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and local courts consisting of city, town and village courts.

As of the end of July, Westchester County court operations have resumed but there remain certain restrictions. Keep reading to learn the answers to the frequently asked questions we got from our clients.

Do I have to appear in court due to COVID-19?

Most likely not, but it depends on the individual court and the legal matter. We recommend that you contact your attorney or the individual court to determine if in-person proceedings are necessary. Since the pandemic, most courts have scheduled appearances via Skype for Business permitting judges, staff, lawyers and litigants to appear on a video conference or by accessing a special telephone number to connect to proceedings.

The problem is that these “virtual” appearances can be unpredictable. For this reason, it is crucial to have a proactive lawyer who will conference cases in advance to determine the need for in-person appearances and can determine what needs to be accomplished at a Westchester County court proceeding.

What should I expect if I physically have to appear in court?

Westchester County court appearances in all courts are staggered to minimize foot traffic in the courthouse. You must wear a mask which most courthouses will supply a mask to you. We highly recommend that you bring your own hand sanitizer. Further, your temperature should be taken, and your personal information collected for COVID-19 tracing. Social distancing will be monitored and no more than two people are permitted in an elevator at any time.

Although you might feel as if your movement in the courthouse is restricted, it is best to follow the rules and directions of the court staff including the court officers.

Can I adjourn my court appearance due to COVID-19?

In some instances, you can adjourn your court appearance due to COVID-19 concerns. This should be done through your lawyer. Typically, an attorney would contact the Westchester County court and arrange for a new date or for your appearance to be excused.

Under what circumstances should I not appear in court?

Do not appear in any courthouse, probation department or pretrial services if you got a positive result in your COVID-19 test or if you were in direct contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 14 days. If you are experiencing a fever, cough, shortness of breath or any other respiratory symptoms, we urge you to stay home and fully recover.

What if I cannot comply with probation or pretrial services due to COVID-19?

You are obligated to comply with all requirements for probation or pretrial services. This includes testing, probation meetings, DWI classes and community service. If you are sick or in a vulnerable group, do not place yourself or others at risk.

We recommend contacting your attorney, probation office or pretrial services for instruction. Document all of your communication if you need to prove any health issue and show you are acting in good faith and attempting to comply.

Will my case be dismissed due to COVID-19?

Your case will unlikely be dismissed due to COVID -19. When Westchester County courts fully reopen, there will likely be a backlog of cases that need to be resolved. Be prepared for issues regarding the unavailability of witnesses, speedy trial issues, police officer unavailability and impactful court delays.

Can I have a Hardship Hearing if I am arrested for DWI?

Yes, at an arraignment for a New York DWI offense, the court is required to suspend an in-state or out-of-state motorist’s driving privilege pending prosecution of the DWI charge. At an arraignment, the motorist is entitled to a hardship hearing for a continuation of limited driving privileges in an extreme hardship situation.

These hearings have been held in person in the local criminal courts. An accused person’s DWI lawyer needs to contact the court to arrange a Hardship Hearing in advance to avoid an unnecessary suspension.

Can I be released from jail due to COVID-19?

It is possible to be released from jail due to COVID-19, but that depends on numerous factors. Some judges can consider sentence reductions, delays in beginning any jail sentence or alternative options for sentences. To explore these options, you must consult with your attorney.

You Need Our Proven & Experienced Lawyers on Your Side. Call Now!

If you have been arrested or have a pending case, contact the Westchester County law firm of Proto, Sachs & Brown, LLP for help with your case at any time, including during COVID-19. We have offices located in White Plains and Peekskill, New York, all of which offer a free initial consultation.