In-person court proceedings halted; ACLU urges inmate release

Graphic courtesy: MGN Online

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) Except for emergencies and a few exceptions, in-person court proceedings are being put on hold in Kentucky as the impact of the coronavirus — COVID-19 — outbreak continues to reach into every corner of daily life in the state.

The decision prompted the ACLU to urged judges to release inmates who are in jail only for non-payment of fines and fees.

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The suspension lasts from March 16 through April 10, according to a press release from the Kentucky Supreme Court. All in-person civil and criminal dockets are canceled.

Exceptions will be made when necessary for domestic violence hearings, criminal evidentiary hearings, and emergency matters, according to the release. And even in those cases, judges are encouraged to use phone or video services to minimize in-person contact.

In addition, the Supreme Court will not seat an audience, as it normally does, when it hears oral arguments in civil cases on appeal from Fayette, Jefferson, Kenton and Woodford counties March 18-20 in Frankfort. Proceedings will take place in the Supreme Court Courtroom on the second floor of the state Capitol at 700 Capital Ave., in Frankfort, but the proceedings will not be open to the public.

The move is done in response to calls for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response, the ACLU said the delays only make a bad situation worse for some inmates.

“In the wake of the novel coronavirus, the ACLU of Kentucky is asking judges and prosecutors to release people who are incarcerated only because they cannot afford to pay bail,” ACLU-KY Smart Justice Field Organizer Amanda Hall said in a statement. “These Kentuckians are presumed to be innocent and have not been convicted on the charges that got them there. They remain locked in jails and prisons as their cases move through the system simply because they cannot afford to buy their freedom.

“These new court delays will force Kentuckians who cannot afford to pay bail to remain incarcerated for several additional weeks. People who are incarcerated are unable to practice social-distancing and other health safety measures to protect themselves from Covid-19. They will also be separated from their families just as thousands of children and their parents are preparing for schools to close.

“No person should ever have to purchase their freedom, especially during a public health emergency,” Hall added, noting releasing them would lower health risks for inmates and jail staffs.