ATLANTA – Most courts are closed because of COVID-19, which has put millions of people’s lives on hold. Defense attorneys said it is past time to head back to the courtroom.
They said the services they provide don’t do their clients justice when done virtually and closed courts jeopardize their defendants’ constitutional rights.
That’s why a Georgia lawyer wants Governor Brian Kemp to consider criminal defense attorneys as essential workers so they can get the vaccine and start working for the public again.
The Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys argues a pandemic shouldn’t infringe on one’s constitutional rights to legal counsel.
For months, courts have kept their doors closed to slow the spread of COVID-19, but now cases are in limbo awaiting trial and other serious proceedings.
“Without hard deadlines, things aren’t moving as quickly,” President of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, Lawrence Zimmerman said.
Right now, Georgia is in phase one of the vaccination plan, which includes healthcare workers, living facility staff, and those over 65.
Soon, the Georgia Department of Public Health said Georgia will enter Phase 1B, which covers non-healthcare essential workers, but there is no specific mention of criminal defense attorneys.
Zimmerman said returning to the courtroom is past due, and the criminal defense association believes the vaccine will help get the legal system back on course.
“This incredible backlog that’s going to take three, four years to dig out from under and you can’t do that until you have the other side of the courtroom in there which is the lawyers for the accused,” Zimmerman said.
They said the services they provide don’t do their clients justice when done virtually and closed courts jeopardize their defendant’s constitutional rights.
“I absolutely believe first responders and the vulnerable should certainly be the first people to be vaccinated we’re not trying to take anyone’s place,” he said.
“Under the Sixth Amendment, criminal defense lawyers are specifically mentioned. It says that the accused have the right to counsel, so I’d say we’re essential just because we’re in the Bill of Rights,” Zimmerman said.
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