Shocking news - COVID-19 has changed our daily lives. Texas and United States legal systems have been completely impacted and have made all participants in our Constitutional due process re-evaluate so much of what we have relied on for centuries. As a criminal defense trial lawyer and small business owner, my firm has also made changes to how we make them prove it, even during this pandemic.
At the end of March, I received a phone call from a Detective informing me that my client had a warrant out for their arrest. This is a fairly common phone call I receive and I responded as I usually do, "when would you like to arrange for him/her to surrender?" The Detective’s response stunned me, he said, “We aren’t going to arrest him now. We will let you know.” This is by no means an indication that society is on the verge of anarchy, but rather, a realization that our law enforcement officers are concerned about contracting this deadly airborne virus, just as much as the public.
Since COVID-19, criminal investigations into alleged wrongdoing are much slower, have become more problematic, and take longer to complete. For example, DWI breath testing machines are not being serviced and maintained as often because who wants to blow into a tube during an airborne pandemic. Videos from police car cameras are taking longer to become available because the people who retrieve and prepare the videos are not “in the office” as much. Businesses responding to a subpoena for documents take longer because they aren’t physically in the office to copy the original document. Even courts have started to clear out jails so that people don’t contract a COVID-19 death sentence.
During my investigation into my client’s case, I need to meet with witnesses, family members, and friends of my client to prepare for state or federal trial. My investigators need to meet with people who have information that will help my client. But since COVID-19, people are afraid to meet with anyone, witnesses are less likely to speak, and not everyone has the ability to Zoom or video teleconference.
Nonetheless, we will find a way. Any client who retains me will learn that I’m relentless. I’ll accommodate fears of COVID-19 by going above and beyond to safely and hygienically meet with anyone with information on my client’s case. We will wear a mask, face shield, gloves, hazmat suit, or swim in hand sanitizer if need be- it doesn’t matter, we will thoroughly investigate each client’s case.
I became a lawyer to argue cases to a jury in an open courtroom. The fundamental Constitutional right to a jury of your peers, where witnesses are questioned and criminal allegations are challenged, is being reshaped as we speak. Potential jurors are required to wear a mask and lawyers cannot see their faces, leaving attorneys unable to do their jobs effectively. Lawyers aren’t able to communicate with their client because social-distancing does not allow for confidentiality. In a trial, simply receiving a piece of evidence from the State could lead to virus transmission.
A serious concern for every courthouse in the country is the impact of COVID-19 on potential jurors and being able to seat a jury that reflects the community. Pre-pandemic, seating a jury that reflects the community was already a challenge. The data indicates that COVID-19 victims are disproportionally minorities and the elderly. If minority members of the community, the elderly, and even healthy people are afraid to do their civic duty, then our Constitutional social foundation suffers. People who aren’t able to work from home might not be able to take off time for jury duty because their employer is struggling to keep them on the payroll. Essential workers who come into contact with the public for work might unknowingly be a carrier of the virus when they show up for jury duty. No matter how persuasive or engaging trial lawyers might be, jurors who are afraid of contracting a deadly virus will only focus on getting home safely to their families.
Until a time where we can return to “pre-COVID normal,” we adapt. We are spending more time investigating evidence, researching new legal avenues, and pursuing more witnesses than ever before because that’s what we can safely do right now. We communicate on Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, and even meet in person, socially distanced, in our office. We are taking this time to be ready for whatever our client needs. We are preparing for the day a jury can safely be seated and we can return to hygienically defending the constitutional rights of “We the People.”
SBA and PPP-Loan Investigations
Business owners are being investigated at growing rates for applying for SBA and PPP loans during the pandemic. If you are being investigated for such an allegation, now is the time to start preparing for your defense. The Law Office of Romy B. Kaplan can help you.