Remote court hearings (Zoom) brought on by the pandemic are about to become a part of Minnesota’s future.
After two years of remote zoom hearings necessitated by the pandemic, things are about to permanently change. On June 6, 2022, the Minnesota Judicial Branch will lift pandemic restrictions for good but remote zoom hearings will be here to stay. According to Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, Lorie S. Gildea, “committing to the long-term use of remote hearings in our district courts will greatly expand access to justice and improve our service to the people of Minnesota.” In an order issued on April 19, 2022, Gildea announced a new statewide judicial policy, the oneCourtMN Hearings Initiative Policy, which outlines how remote hearings are to be handled starting June 6, 2022.
What is in the new Policy?
Starting on June 6, 2022, many non-criminal cases are presumed remote unless exceptional circumstances exist to hold the appearances in-person like an evidentiary hearing. For criminal cases, the decision whether to hold a remote hearing will be up to each individual judicial district. It is assumed that each district knows its criminal case backlog (caused by the pandemic) and are in a better position to determine how best to manage it, whether remotely or in-person.
What does this mean for criminal DWI cases?
For criminal DWI cases post June 6, 2022, whether a particular hearing is presumptively remote (zoom), or in-person will be up to each individual judicial district, and they may not be uniform in their application. Under the new policy, it is a safe bet that all evidentiary hearings and trials (court or jury) will be presumptively in-person at the courthouse. Other court appearances like first appearances, pre-trials, and other non-evidentiary hearings will be presumptively remote unless an individual district chooses to make these hearings in-person to deal with their pandemic case backlog. It is best to discuss this with your attorney or to help guide you in the judicial district you have a criminal DWI case, or you can call your local courthouse if you do not have an attorney.
What does this mean for the accompanying civil license revocation and plate impoundment (Implied Consent) cases and Vehicle Forfeiture Cases?
Under the new Policy and Justice Gildea’s Order, an Implied Consent case is deemed a minor civil case and a presumptively remote hearing, which contradicts the presumption that evidentiary hearings with witnesses (which most Implied Cases are) be in-person. Thus, many judicial officers may have to make case-by-case decisions on whether to hold an in-person hearing and those decisions must be based on exceptional circumstances.
As for civil vehicle forfeiture cases that sometimes occur in DWI arrests, the presumption is a remote hearing since it is a minor civil case. Indeed, almost all these cases do not require an evidentiary hearing with witnesses because the prerequisite for obtaining a vehicle forfeiture judgment occurs when the DWI driver is convicted of a designated DWI offense or license revocation (Implied Consent). There would have to be exceptional circumstances to hold these hearings in-person at the courthouse.
It is best to discuss this with your attorney, or you can call your local courthouse if you do not have an attorney.