Do You Have to Perform Community Service During the Pandemic?

Do You Have to Perform Community Service During the Pandemic?

Jane Meggitt
 | 
The pandemic upended many aspects of the legal and criminal justice system. Courthouses closed. Checking in at probation and parole offices was suspended. Home visits stopped. Many of the 501(c)3 non-profit agencies providing community service opportunities shut their doors.

What must those sentenced to perform community service do during this unprecedented time? Community service is an alternative form of sentencing for less serious offenses or to satisfy conditions of probation. Failure to complete the hours to which you were sentenced is a serious matter, and can land you in jail. Whether you have to perform community service during the pandemic depends on a number of factors. The most important is usually the COVID-19 transmission rate in the area.

Community service referral agencies (CSRAs) approved by the court help those sentenced to work a specific number of hours find appropriate placement. Many CSRAs are currently providing services remotely.  

Court-Order Community Service Online
Some non-profits offer virtual volunteering. They may need research, editing, and other online tasks completed. The court must grant permission for completing community service hours online.

Some courts will grant permission when provided with the legitimacy of both the non-profit and the scope of the work. Others will not consider online community service satisfactory.

Extensions Issued
In some jurisdictions, extensions have been issued for the completion of community service. In normal times, it is possible to request an extension of the time allotted to complete community service if there is a good reason for not completing your hours. Only one extension is permitted.

Since the pandemic, some jurisdictions have granted extensions even to those who previously received one. For instance, in California the emergency extension may be issued for up to 180 days after the request date.

Suspensions Lifted
As the pandemic took hold, many courts issued orders waiving or suspending the completion of community service hours. As coronavirus infections plummet, the curve flattens and vaccinations increase, new orders are vacating the suspensions.

Non-profit Needs
Many non-profit organizations have come to depend on those sentenced to community service to perform necessary work. If the non-profit agency and community service program meet all safety protocols required by the state health department, courts may order community service hours completed in accordance with the terms of the sentence.

Site Limitations
Community service programs are starting again, especially for those who are working outdoors. Even so, many programs require social distancing and are limiting the number of participants on a particular site. The number of community service shifts available may have decreased to protect public health.

Masking and Other Requirements
Those performing community service during the pandemic usually must provide their own masks. Before the pandemic, some government agencies or non-profits may have provided transportation to the site. Such transportation may no longer prove available. If you are unable to drive yourself to the site, you may ask the court for a referral to another community service project without such an issue.    

Speak With an Attorney
Speak to your attorney about the options for completing community service in your jurisdiction.  Your lawyer should also know whether or not the court will accept virtual volunteering and, if so, under what circumstances.

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.
 
 
Jane Meggitt

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