Supreme Court issues EAO-4 to hinder spread of COVID-19

March 18, 2020

The Mississippi Supreme Court today issued an order that temporarily suspends the portion of Rule 1.8 of the Mississippi Rules of Criminal Procedure regarding the use of Interactive Audiovisual Devices in criminal proceedings. Rule 1.8(b)(3) requires defense counsel to be present at the same location with the defendant during preliminary proceedings. The Court entered this order to hinder the spread of COVID-19.

The Court ordered that the Public Defender and the State are authorized to develop procedures based on available technology to ensure that people have access to the courts at this critical time, while at the same time reducing the risk of spreading this potentially deadly virus.

Existing court rules permit the use of “interactive audiovisual devices” in court appearances in Circuit, County, Municipal and Justice Courts. However, the rule requires defense counsel to be physically present with the defendant in any remote video conference with a judge.

On behalf of public defenders and criminal justice advocates, the State Public Defender asked the Supreme Court to temporarily suspend the rule as it applies to initial appearances and bail review hearings to reduce the possibility that a lawyer representing a defendant might bring the virus into a detention facility. After consultation with several prosecutors and local district attorneys, the Office of the Attorney General agreed, recognizing in their response that “temporarily suspending Rule 1.8 would provide flexibility to all who face the uncertainty of the weeks ahead.”

Chief Justice Randolph, writing on behalf of the Court, temporarily suspended the part of the rule that requires an attorney to be physically present with the defendant, but at the same time, did not “suspend the requirement for defense counsel to participate in the proceeding.”