What does the Coronavirus Outbreak mean for Los Angeles Courts?

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The coronavirus outbreak is affecting every aspect of life. Non-essential workers are ordered to stay at home while everyone is asked to stay home as much as possible. Schools and public venues are closed. You may even be asked to stay six feet away from those in the grocery store if you can’t get groceries delivered to your home. But will courts in Los Angeles close during the coronavirus outbreak? And, how else is the legal system affected by the COVID-19 virus pandemic?

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels
Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

The Risk of Closure

Los Angeles County courts closed for a three-day hiatus but reopened mid-March. They’re not expected to close entirely. In contrast, Alameda County courts were closed except for proceedings like restraining order hearings and arraignments. However, they’re slowing down the rate of work in LA County courts to avoid overcrowding. As a result, most trials have been frozen for a month. This is adding to the already lengthy case backlog. This is impacting the rest of the Los Angeles legal system.

The Impact on Local Policing

Police and prosecutors have dramatically scaled back enforcement, and according to The Rodriguez Law Group, there is data to prove it. The number of arrests by LA police and sheriff deputies has already fallen during the coronavirus outbreak. The number of cases filed by LA county prosecutors is likely to fall as a result, too.

Another shift is the near cessation of arrests for low-level offenses. Officers are reducing their exposure risk by only handling essential calls for service. They aren’t coming out for fender benders. Furthermore, they are less likely to arrest someone for minor offenses, so they’ve essentially stopped making misdemeanor arrests. They’re limiting enforcement to violent offenses or emergency calls. They’ve also closed their front desks to the public.

The Impact on the Courts

Courts across California are delaying trials. Some are even closing their doors. Some are trying to balance public safety with due process by having judges wearing latex gloves and face masks while hearing critical cases.

Social distancing might be enforced in the court by running caution tape down rows in the seating area of arraignment courts. This allows courts to process criminal hearings and cases in a timely manner while minimizing risk. For example, courtroom access is often limited to attorneys, staff, and defendants; relatives have to wait outside.

District Attorney Jackie Lacey asked prosecutors to consider exposure risk for defendants in determining bail. She also said that they will prioritize prosecutions of violent felons. In order to speed up cases, more cases will be adjudicated instead of tried.

The Impact on Defendants

The DA office, public defender, and district attorney’s offices are all planning on reviewing several thousand cases to see if defendants can be safely released ahead of trial. This means the defendant’s age and health, as well as the nature of their offense, determines whether or not they’ll be released early.

Defendants are asking to be released from custody due to the Chinese coronavirus risk, as well. Dates to report to probation until the summer are regularly approved. This means we’ll see more people released on their recognizance and having a few months’ grace before they have to report for anything.


Densely packed courtrooms and prisons are a breeding ground for disease. However, justice requires the system to continue operations. The result has been a number of changes that are dramatically affecting the Los Angeles legal system and could continue to do so for weeks to come.