July 5, 2020

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Coronavirus puts courts on hold

By Bill Richardson

LAWRENCEVILLE - Those who commit crimes in Lawrence County will still pay for it, but justice will likely be delayed.

Even prisoners are entitled to protection from the coronavirus, and to that end, Lawrence County law enforcement is being very picky about who goes to jail.

Between the dates of March 22 and March 30, only one arrest in Lawrence County ended with the subject landing in jail. According to a Lawrence County jail report, Lawrenceville police on March 29 arrested Johnathon David Booher, 30, Lawrenceville, on a charge of domestic battery. As of Monday, he was being held in the jail, pending the establishment of bond.

One person was arrested on March 22, but he was quickly released. Prior to that, an arrest was made each day on March 19 and 20.

As of March 30, there were only 11 inmates in the facility, 10 men and a woman, according to Lawrence County Sheriff Russell Adams. The woman, who has been incarcerated since March 4, is being held in a cell by herself. The 10 men are being spread out among four different cells, and are able to maintain proper distance, if they want to.

Although it's unlikely someone will actually go to jail unless he commits a very serious crime, Lawrence County State's Attorney Michael M. Strange stresses that police officers are still doing their job.

"It's not like the wild, wild west," Strange said. "But we are arresting fewer people now out of concern (for the coronavirus)."

Strange says that law-breakers are still subject to justice.

"People are still being arrested," he said. "It's not like the police aren't policing. Anyone who is stopped where a violation has occurred is still subject to justice. There will be a report and charges will be filed. It's just kind of different now."

According to sheriff Russell Adams, those who are charged with felonies, or higher level misdemeanors such as domestic battery, will still land in jail. Otherwise, even for such offenses as DUI, the subject will be given a notice to appear before being let go on bond.

It's all in an effort to keep prisoners, as well as jail staff, safe from the virus.

"You don't want to bring this virus into the jail," said Strange. "You don't want it to affect the jail staff and the other inmates. With something like this, you can't be too safe."

Likewise, Lawrence Circuit Court is being affected. Things haven't been totally shut down, but only the most important cases are being heard. It's all part of an administrative order from the Second Judicial Circuit.

Pending felony cases and other emergency hearings are still taking place. Strange noted that four defendants appeared in front of Judge Robert M. Hopkins last week. Most cases, however, have been postponed indefinitely.

"Everything is very weird right now," Strange said. "We're trying to get through it, but nobody knows when it's going to end."

When things do return to normal, it's going to lead to a back-log of cases in a courtroom that's already extremely busy.

"Things are pretty busy as it is," Strange said. "We're going to have to work hard to get caught up. We might have to reconsider how we do some things."


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