Do Remote Court Proceedings Protect A Defendant’s Due Process Rights?
The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the way law is practiced in courtrooms throughout Texas and even worldwide. Remote hearings conducted through Zoom or other services had been seldom used, usually under special circumstances only, until March 2020. Then, everything changed.
Courtrooms were faced with a crisis unlike any they’d seen. How to balance public health and safety while hearing cases among their already overburdened court dockets? The answer was virtual hearings for almost every case. Suddenly, Zoom hearings were the new norm.
The benefit to judges and courthouses was they could proceed with their dockets and hear cases under normal schedules. The benefits to attorneys and parties to cases included:
- Time and money saved from having to travel to the courthouse, pay for parking, and take time off work to go to court;
- Reduced attorney’s fees for clients whose attorneys no longer needed to bill for travel time or other time and expense associated with going to a court hearing in person;
- Improved access to the court system for people with disabilities, lack of transportation, or other issues that presented obstacles to going to court personally;
- Ability to proceed with criminal cases in a manner that preserves a defendant’s Constitutional right to a speedy trial.
Constitutional Problems with Remote Hearings and Testimony
While the widespread acceptance of remote appearances by attorneys, clients, and witnesses has brought real benefits to all participants in the judicial process, remote hearings are not free from serious problems.
In a criminal case, defendants have a Sixth Amendment right to confront their accusers in open court. The Confrontation Clause’s basic promise is that, before a defendant can be convicted and imprisoned, they have an essential right to at least face their accusers during a trial. This is one of the underpinnings of American due process rights – a feature that separates our justice system from ones in which people are thrown in jail without a fair trial or a chance to question their accusers.
Traditionally, this has always meant in-person testimony by all witnesses against a criminal defendant. As digital technology made advances, courts were asked to reconsider this requirement, or carve out special exceptions. In Maryland v. Craig, 497 U.S. 836 (1990), the U.S. Supreme Court found that the use of closed-circuit television to conduct testimony and cross-examination of a child abuse victim was appropriate and did not violate the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause.
Courts have cited this and other cases to support the notion that witnesses can testify from another location as long as the defendant and jury can see them and there is sufficient opportunity to cross-examine them. In-person, face-to-face interactions are not always required as long as procedural safeguards are in place to make sure a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights are preserved.
Nevertheless, remote testimony is not ideal and some argue does not fit the meaning of the Confrontation Clause. A skilled Pearland criminal defense attorney should always make the argument that their client is entitled to confront their accuser in court, and not through a screen.
Our Pearland, Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Will Fight to Make Sure All of a Defendant’s Constitutional Rights – Including the Right to Confront an Accuser – are Observed During a Criminal Trial
When a person is charged with any serious crime that includes a possibility of jail time, they have critical Constitutional rights and a right to face their accuser in court. At Keith B. French Law in Pearland, Texas, we will do everything possible to make sure your trial is conducted fairly and openly. If you would like to learn more about presenting the most aggressive defense you can in your case, contact the offices of Keith B. French Law, PLLC online or call 832-243-6153 today.