FL courts take another step toward normal, dropping mask and distance requirements

Florida Supreme Court
Florida Supreme Court. Credit: Shutterstock.com

Florida’s courts, hobbled for more than a year by COVID restrictions, are ramping up again, free of requirements that participants wear mask and socially distance themselves.

An order to that effect, signed Friday by Chief Justice Charles Canady, cites increased vaccination rates and a declining case counts, plus more lenient guidance by public health authorities.

“At this time, effective vaccines for COVID-19 are adequately available in Florida for persons ages 12 and older; almost half of this state’s population has been partially or fully vaccinated; and government-issued health standards and guidance provide that fully vaccinated persons do not need to wear face masks or physically distance in most indoor and outdoor settings unless required by federal, state, or local laws, rules, or regulations,” the chief justice wrote.

As the state’s chief justice, Canady serves as top administrator of the court system.

He sharply limited in-person proceedings in March 2020, suspending the speedy-trial rule, which ordinarily sets deadlines for bringing cases against defendants, and requiring most proceedings conducted via teleconference, in light of the public health emergency.

He began lifting these restrictions nearly one year ago. The new guidelines lift mask and distance rules beginning on June 21 but no later than Aug. 2. Criminal jury trials get priority treatment for courtroom space.

The speedy-trial rule clock starts on Oct. 4 for juveniles and for adults arrested before March 14, 2020. Adults arrested after March 14, 2020, will regain their speedy-trial rights on Jan. 3, 2022, the order says.

Correction: An earlier version of this story missreported the date at which mask and social distancing requirements will begin to lift. The real date is June 1.

Michael Moline
Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.