“During a sentencing hearing yesterday, I was on my laptop, my client was on the video at the jail, the judge was on the video at the federal court, and the prosecutor was at home."
“Everything in the city courts is running on video and everything in the federal courts is running on video. During a sentencing hearing yesterday, I was on my laptop, my client was on the video at the jail, the judge was on the video at the federal court, and the prosecutor was at home because she's under a 14-day COVID quarantine.
We could keep moving things along, even though courts have been closed since March, because video court was already set up in our city. Before the pandemic, ArchCity Defenders, which mobilized after Ferguson, filed lawsuits to force the city to make bail and bond procedures more efficient. As a result, the city completely redid how they do bond appearances, adding more video cameras in the jails and more video cameras on the court. A lot of good things are going to come out of this. For example, the jails have now made it possible for people to do video conferencing with their attorneys.
So it’s having some good effects now and I am grateful that my clients’ bond and sentencing hearings are able to proceed. My concern, though, is that I don't want people to think this is how we are going to do things from now on. In a criminal case, you have to be face to face with the defendant. There is no substitute for it. You cannot try a case and you should not even be sentencing a person who is not present in court. It is really easy to be quick and dismissive with a person who's on video. I think judges are more willing to engage in conversation and better able to determine who's being truthful and who's not being truthful when they're face to face. I think we owe it to the people who we're going to lock up. I think we owe them the right to stand in the courtroom. There are certain rights when you're a criminal defendant that are really sacrosanct. One of them is the presumption of innocence. The other one is the right to confrontation.
So, yes, it’s much less expensive to do it by video, but that’s absolutely not how things should be done when there isn’t an emergency like a global pandemic."
-- Sue, Attorney (September 2020)