Florida Court Discusses the Right to be Physically Present in a Courtroom

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused upheaval in every area of life, including the judicial system. While many courts have delayed and canceled proceedings to protect public health, they are also largely mindful of protecting the rights of criminal defendants and must balance both objectives in determining how to proceed. Whether a remote probation violation hearing using audio-video technology violates a defendant’s constitutional rights was the topic of a recent opinion drafted by a Florida court. If you are charged with violating the terms of your probation, it is advisable to speak to a seasoned St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to discuss your rights.

The Defendant’s Probation

It is alleged that in 2018 the defendant was placed on probation for first-degree murder. In June 2020, an affidavit was filed indicating he violated the terms of his probation by committing three new offenses. He was taken into custody and held without bond, and faced a life sentence if he was found guilty of violating his probation.

Reportedly, in October 2020, the Florida Supreme Court issued an order providing that all rules and court orders that prohibited the use of communication equipment for remote proceedings were suspended. Thus, it was determined at a status conference that the defendant’s probation violation hearing would be conducted via remote means. The defendant objected to the remote hearing, as he would not be in the same room as his counsel, and stated that it would constitute a violation of his Constitutional rights. The court overruled his objections, and the defendant appealed.

The Right to be Physically Present in a Courtroom

Generally, criminal defendants have a right to be physically present during all serious stages of a trial, pursuant to due process. As such, in determining whether a proceeding complies with this constitutional mandate, a court must consider whether the proceeding constitutes a serious stage and whether the requirement of presence can be satisfied by a method other than in-person presence. The court must also determine whether there are exceptions to the general rule.

The court explained that Rule 3.180 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure required that a defendant has a right to be physically present for multiple enumerated criminal proceedings. The court noted that while on its face Rule 3.180 indicated that the refusal to allow the defendant to appear in person would constitute a violation of his rights, probation hearings were not specifically included within the scope of the Rule. Further, even if they were included under the Rule, the orders issued by the Florida Supreme Court suspended the application of the rule. The court also found that in light of the pandemic, a remote hearing did not constitute a violation of the defendant’s rights.

Speak with an Experienced St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney

There are many laws that protect the right of a criminal defendant to receive a fair trial. If you are accused of a probation violation crime or any criminal offense, it is advisable to consult an attorney to discuss your options. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is an experienced St. Petersburg defense attorney who will diligently pursue the best outcome available in your case. You can reach Mr. Hanlon via the online form or at 727-897-5413 to set up a meeting.

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