PRESS RELEASE 2020-0008

MODIFIED PROCEDURES PRE-TRIAL DETENTION AND RELEASE IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19

The Presiding Judge of the Superior Court, Harold W.L. Willocks, today signed an administrative order establishing an emergency procedure to reduce the potential for introducing the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) into facilities operated by the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections. The order, which goes into effect on April 9, 2020, grants peace officers the discretion to effectuate arrests for misdemeanors and minor felonies through issuance of an appearance ticket rather than by physical restraint and detention. It also directs the Attorney General and the Office of the Territorial Public Defender to confer and when possible stipulate to the release of a person arrested or held in pretrial detention.

“COVID-19 spreads at its quickest in closed environments such as correctional facilities, where inmates and staff are not able to practice social distancing,” Presiding Judge Willocks said in the administrative order. “Since COVID-19 is believed to spread mainly between people who are in close contact with one another, the act of restraining a defendant who is being placed under arrest poses a high risk of transmitting COVID-19 between the peace officer and the defendant, and detention of the defendant increases the likelihood that COVID-19 may be introduced into the correctional facility and rapidly infect inmates and staff.”

The administrative order provides that peace officers may utilize the universal citation— commonly referred to as the marijuana citation—as the appearance ticket. The officer shall indicate on the ticket the statute the defendant has violated; capture the defendant’s personal information including date of birth, address, phone number, and any pertinent personal identifiers; provide a court date to the defendant using the appearance ticket schedule provided to the Virgin Islands Police Department; and submit the 1A report to the Attorney General for submission to the court.

Presiding Judge Willocks issued the administrative order pursuant to authority conferred by the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands in a March 20, 2020 administrative order. That order, signed by Chief Justice Rhys S Hodge, suspended all non-essential Judicial Branch services effective Monday March 23, 2020 and adopted interim procedures for matters before the Superior

Court of the Virgin Islands and the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands. The order further authorized the Superior Court to supplement those precautionary measures in consultation with the Chief Justice and the Administrator of Courts.

“The Judicial Branch has joined the Executive Branch, as well as state governments across the country, in suspending all non-essential operations to prevent the spread of COVID- 19.” Chief Justice Hodge said after signing the March 20, 2020 order. “Although we have adopted these necessary limitations, both the Superior Court and the Supreme Court remain open for the acceptance of filings, and judicial officers remain available to issue rulings on emergency matters. We will continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and guidance issued by public health authorities, and reassess these measures as more information becomes available.”

For more information, contact:

Regina Petersen, Administrator of Courts Judicial Branch of the Virgin Islands P.O. Box 590
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands 00804

Fax: (340) 774‐2258  TTY: (340) 693-4118 Regina.Petersen@vicourts.org