Florida courts to drop mask, distancing requirements

File photo
File photo (istock)

Florida courts are set to resume some jury trials and drop mask and social-distancing requirements, while most court proceedings will continue to take place remotely, under an order issued Friday by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady.

The order came as COVID-19 case numbers have subsided and vaccinations have become readily available.

“Trial court proceedings shall continue to be remotely conducted, as appropriate, to facilitate the efficient and expeditious processing of cases,” the order said.

Most in-person court proceedings were canceled in March 2020, as the pandemic spread through the state.

Jury trials in Duval County began again in February.

“Prior to COVID, most felony judges were running the range between 300 to 400 cases. Now the norm is closer to 600, close to 700. So it’s not quite doubled, but it’s very close, and so those cases have to be worked through,” Chief Judge Mark Mahon of the 4th Judicial Circuit told News4Jax on Wednesday. “We’re doing everything we can to get those resolved.”

Under Canady’s order, chief judges may drop mask and distancing requirements as soon as June 21 but no later than Aug. 2.

“At this time, effective vaccines for COVID-19 are adequately available in Florida for persons ages 12 and older; almost half of this state’s population has been partially or fully vaccinated; and government-issued health standards and guidance provide that fully vaccinated persons do not need to wear face masks or physically distance in most indoor and outdoor settings unless required by federal, state, or local laws, rules, or regulations,” Canady’s order said.

The order allows courtroom participants to wear masks and allows chief judges to establish policies “addressing the use of face masks with clear plastic panels during in-person court proceedings.”

The order prioritizes jury trials and directs most other proceedings to be conducted remotely “to maximize the availability of facility space” for in-person trial court proceedings.

“Participants who have the capability of participating by electronic means in remote appellate or trial court proceedings must do so,” the order said.

Canady’s order also set up a schedule for speedy-trial requirements in law to resume. Speedy trial provisions for adult defendants and juveniles taken into custody before March 14, 2020 will resume on Oct. 4. Speedy trial provisions for adult defendants taken into custody after March 14, 2020 will resume Jan. 3, 2022.

About the Authors: