Extreme Risk Protection Orders during COVID-19

State Court Adaptation to the State of Emergency

June 1, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased social isolation, fear, despair, and anxiety, leading to heightened risks of suicide. For someone in distress, access to a firearm is particularly lethal: 90 percent of suicide attempts using a gun result in death, while only 4 percent of suicide attempts not involving a firearm result in death, allowing those in crisis a chance to obtain help.

Extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) are critical tools in preventing gun suicides, especially as some states have seen an uptick in calls to suicide and domestic violence hotlines. For example, in San Diego, the city attorney’s office obtained 26 ERPOs in March and 20 ERPOs in the first third of April. The 46 ERPOs filed in these 6 weeks are equal to 21% of all ERPOs filed in San Diego County in 2019. The ERPOs filed in 2020 involved “mental health issues, including multiple threats of suicide,” demonstrating that ERPOs continue to be a necessary life-saving tool during the pandemic.

In all 17 states with extreme risk laws in effect (and DC), court operations have been significantly impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, consistent with Everytown recommendations, as of April 2020, state governors, attorneys general, and courts have adapted their policies and procedures to ensure that ERPOs can continue to be sought and issued, with many states classifying ERPOs as essential court proceedings that should continue during the pandemic.

table representing 'Where ERPOs are desiganted as essential court proceedings.' Yes, statewide: CO, CT, DC*, DE, FL, MA, MD, NJ (police-filed only), NY, OR, RI, WA. Local districts/judges have discretion about whether ERPO petitions are essential: CA, HI, IL, IN, NJ (citizen-filed), NV
*“Protective orders” are broadly deemed essential.

States have also worked to make ERPO proceedings available remotely. In Washington State, Governor Jay Inslee issued an executive order permitting remote ERPO hearings and modifying service requirements. As of April 2020, chief justices in Oregon, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and other states have issued statewide orders permitting ERPO filings and proceedings via remote means where possible.

table representing ERPOs that can be filed remotely and ERPOs that can be heard remotely. Statewide, ERPOs can be filed remotely in these states: DC, DE, HI, MA, NJ (police-filed only), NY, OR, RI, WA. At a local discretion/variation, in these states ERPOs can be filed remotely: CA, CO, CT, FL, IL, IN, MD, NV. In these states, ERPOs can be heard remotely statewide: CA, DC, DE, FL, MA, MD, NJ, NY, OR, RI, WA. In these states, ERPOs can be heard remotely at local discretion/variation: CO, CT, HI, IL, IN, NV.

Recommendations

As courts continue to adapt during this crisis, individuals and law enforcement agencies can continue to use ERPOs to safeguard individuals and protect public safety. As social distancing continues, courts can facilitate access to ERPOs by 1) classifying ERPOs as essential proceedings and 2) permitting remote filing and hearings.

For more information about seeking an extreme risk protection order to protect a loved one or community member, visit onethingyoucando.org.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support 24/7 to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. 1-800-273-TALK (8255); suicidepreventionlifeline.org

You may also contact the Crisis Text Line, which provides trained crisis counseling services over text 24/7. Text HOME to 741741 for free from anywhere in the US. crisistextline.org