We are pleased to announce that an article written by attorneys Yaron Helmer and Patricia Quelch was recently featured in the July 2020 edition of In Brief. In Brief is published by the New Jersey Association for Justice (NJAJ), an association of lawyers and legal professionals who are, “dedicated to protecting New Jersey’s families by working to preserve and strengthen the laws for safer products and workplaces, a cleaner environment and quality health care.” Mr. Helmer is the co-chair of the NJAJ’s Criminal Law Section.
New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyers and Inmates are Facing Unprecedented Challenges and Risks
The article, titled Representing Inmates During the Coronavirus Pandemic Presents Difficulties, discusses the challenges New Jersey criminal defense attorneys are facing during the COVID-19 crisis with respect to representing incarcerated clients, and it highlights the risks inmates are facing during the pandemic. With respect to challenges in providing representation, it covers several issues, including both new challenges and existing difficulties that have been exacerbated by the crisis. Some examples of these issues include:
- New difficulties with respect to meeting with incarcerated clients in person, including new prearranged notice requirements;
- Technological challenges that limit the frequency, efficacy and privacy of video communications;
- The risk of privileged communications conducted in private chat rooms during virtual court hearings being recorded or accidentally disclosed;
- The risk of incarcerated individuals contracting COVID-19 – and potentially dying – while in jail, particularly when social distancing, handwashing and masking protocols are not implemented or followed; and
- Inadequate access to COVID-19 testing for inmates and corrections officers, which may lead to undiagnosed infections that spread to a large portion of the jail or prison population.
Too Little is Being Done to Protect Inmates in New Jersey During the Coronavirus Pandemic
In order to address these concerns – and the concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19 within jail and prison populations in particular – the New Jersey Supreme Court and Governor Phil Murphy have issued orders to allow for the release and furlough of inmates. However, as of June 5, only 18 percent of inmates in state prison eligible for release were out of jail. Inmates who are eligible include those who are 60 or older, those with medical conditions that increase their risk of harm or death due to COVID-19, those who have been denied parole in the past year, and those who have less than three months left to serve.
At present, it is unclear how – or if – more will be done to ensure that inmates are not unduly put at risk, and it is likewise unclear when – if ever – released and furloughed inmates will be required to surrender and complete their sentences. As written by Yaron Helmer and Patricia Quelch:
“The bottom line: Few prisoners have been released pursuant to [the Supreme Court’s and governor’s] orders. It is too early to tell whether appeals will be heard quickly enough to help inmates who become infected and die. Grave concerns regarding the current treatment of criminal defendants and their compromised access to justice require attention and action without further delay.”
Contact Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A.
Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A. is a New Jersey law firm that represents clients in criminal proceedings and other matters. If you have questions and would like to speak with Mr. Helmer or Ms. Quelch, you can call 877-435-6371 or contact us online to arrange a confidential consultation.