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'It's A Terrible Emotional Impact On People': COVID-19 Pushes New York's Legal System To Its Limits

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New York City courts entered Phase 2 of reopening Wednesday, but many criminal, civil and family cases remain on hold indefinitely, and the backlog is creating safety concerns.

Courtrooms are empty, trials are on hold and defendants are left in limbo. The coronavirus pandemic is pushing the legal system to its limit.

"People are sitting in jail, waiting for some kind of legal process, without knowing if and when that's going to occur," said criminal defense attorney Marc Gann in an interview with CBS2's Christina Fan. "I can only imagine the psychological effect that has on people."


The pandemic has caused the backlog of criminal case in New York City to rise by 44% and there are currently more than 39,200 pending cases. While arraignments are continuing virtually, juries are still unable to convene. Gann worries trials won't resume until there's a vaccine.

"They are deliberating in a small room with 12 people in that room. I think people are going to be incredibly uncomfortable," said Gann.

CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text COVID to 692692 | NJ COVID-19 Info Hub | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Court closures also concern the NYPD, who are facing a tremendous increase in citywide shootings. About 800 defendants arrested on gun possession charges were waiting indictment before the courts shut down.

"At some point those cases are going to have be indicted, on top of the over 1,000 open gun indictments that courts have across the city," said NYPD Chief of Crime Control Strategies Michael LiPietri.

It's not just criminal cases that are impacted. Family attorneys say divorce, child support and custody hearings are on pause too.

"It's most, you know, the worst time in their lives and they want these cases over with. And now, for the foreseeable future, we have no way of knowing when these cases will end," said family attorney Jonathan Katz.

The justice system is trying to adapt as fast as it can. Courts have been slowly increasing the number and types of non-essential cases that can be heard virtually.

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