Federal courts that have been forced to close courthouses to the public because of the novel coronavirus pandemic have been authorized to use technology to provide the public and press with continued access to court proceedings.
Guidance from the Judicial Conference handed down in late March and early April allows chief district court judges – in Indiana, Jane Magnus-Stinson in the Southern District and Theresa Lazar Springmann in the Northern District – to temporarily authorize the use of video or telephone conferencing in certain criminal proceedings while the COVID-19 national emergency persists. Video or teleconferencing, however, can only be authorized with the consent of the defendant.
Already Indiana’s federal courts have begun using electronic communication methods with lawyers and litigants to keep dockets moving as much as possible. All of the federal courthouses in Indiana’s Northern District and Southern District have been closed in response to the pandemic.
The Judicial Conference’s guidance extends the electronic communication to “others who normally participate in or observe such criminal proceedings, including victims, family members, the public, and the press.”
The authorization to include the press and public in electronic court proceedings comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act. The remote access authority granted under the CARES Act will expire 30 days after the national emergency ends or on the date the Judicial Conference determines the federal courts are no longer materially affected by COVID-19, whichever is earlier.
Broadcasting of court proceedings, including internet live streams, are still prohibited under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 53.