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Supreme Court considers need for videoconferencing felony plea hearings

August 5, 2020

The Mississippi Supreme Court will reevaluate the possibility of allowing plea hearings in felony cases to be done by videoconference.

Chief Justice Mike Randolph in an order issued today told the State Attorney General and the State Public Defender to provide the Court with more information via supplemental briefs with regard to whether the Court should allow felony plea hearings by videoconference.

The Court today also clarified that videoconferencing is a permissible means for law enforcement to obtain arrest and search warrants.

The Attorney General and the State Public Defender on March 25 filed a joint motion requesting the Supreme Court to adopt a temporary rule suspension that would allow felony plea hearings, sentencing hearings and probation violation hearings to be done by way of interactive audiovisual equipment. The request was made in an effort to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 into jails. The Supreme Court on March 26 declined to allow plea hearings by videoconference. The March 26 Emergency Administrative Order #7 did temporarily suspend Rule1.8© of the Mississippi Rules of Criminal Procedure to allow sentencing hearings and probation violation hearings to be conducted by videoconference.

The President of the United States signed the CARES Act the next day, March 27. “The CARES Act authorized federal courts to use video teleconferencing, under certain circumstances, for various criminal proceedings during the COVID-19 emergency, including felony pleas under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure,” Chief Justice Randolph said in Emergency Administrative Order #15, issued on Wednesday, Aug. 5. “The Judicial Conference of the United States found that conditions due to this national emergency have affected and will continue to materially affect the functioning of the courts generally. Federal district courts across the nation have since authorized video teleconferencing for felony-plea proceedings.”

Chief Justice Randolph said in the order, “Furthermore, since the entry of Emergency Administrative Order-7 on March 26, 2020, the increased transmission of the COVID-19 virus has continued to impair the normal functioning of Mississippi state courts. While the situation remains fluid, the Court continues to strive in balancing the health risks presented by COVID-19 with the courts’ constitutional and statutory duty to remain open and accessible. To that end, the Court finds the evolving circumstances warrant revisiting the issue of whether to temporarily suspend Rule 1.8( c) as it pertains to the use of ‘interactive audiovisual equipment’ in ‘felony plea’ hearings.”

Supplemental briefs from the Attorney General and State Public Defender are due by Aug. 21. Members of the bench, bar and any interested parties also may submit comments to the Supreme Court by Aug. 21.

Emergency Administrative Order #15 is at this link:
https://courts.ms.gov/appellatecourts/docket/sendPDF.php?f=700_508040.pdf&c=91465&a=N&s=2.

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