Northern District OKs video, phone conferencing in criminal cases

Some criminal proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, including pleas and sentencings, are now authorized to take place virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the district court announced this week.

Northern District Chief Judge Theresa Springmann – in compliance with Section 15002 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and on the district court’s own motion with approval from its judges – authorized the use of video teleconferencing, or telephone conferencing if video teleconferencing is not reasonably available, in the following criminal procedures:

  • Detention hearings under 18 U.S.C. § 3142;
  • Initial appearances under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 5;
  • Preliminary hearings under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 5.1;
  • Waivers of indictment under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 7(b);
  • Arraignments under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 10;
  • Probation and supervised release revocation proceedings under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.1;
  • Pretrial release revocation proceedings under 18 U.S.C. § 3148;
  • Appearances under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 40;
  • Misdemeanor pleas and sentencings as described in Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 43(b)(2), and;
  • Proceedings under 18 U.S.C. § 403 (Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act), except for contested transfer hearings and juvenile delinquency adjudication or trial proceedings.

Additionally, the court authorized the use of video, or telephone conferencing if video is not reasonably available, in felony pleas under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 and felony sentencings under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32, finding that felony pleas and sentencings cannot be conducted in person without seriously jeopardizing public health and safety.

“Under the CARES Act, in order for a felony plea or a felony sentencing to be conducted by video teleconferencing, or telephone conferencing if video teleconferencing is not reasonably available, the presiding district court judge in the particular case must find for specific reasons that the plea or sentencing cannot be further delayed without serious harm to the interests of justice. Judges may also use this authority for equivalent events in juvenile cases as described in Section 15002(b)(2)(B),” the Monday order states.

However, virtual conferencing may only take place with the consent of the defendant, or the juvenile, after consultation with counsel, the order states.

Springmann will review the authorization of the order on or before June 26 to determine whether to extend the order, if the emergency authority has not been terminated under Section 15002(b)(5).

Thereafter, the chief judge will review the extension of the authority once every 90 days.

“The authorization to conduct video teleconferencing or telephone conferencing granted by this Order will terminate on the earlier of (A) the last day of the covered emergency period as defined in Section 15002(a) of the CARES Act or (B) the date on which the Judicial Conference of the United States finds that emergency conditions due to the national emergency declared by the President under the National Emergencies Act with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 no longer materially affect the functioning of either the Federal courts generally or the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana,” the order states.

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