In a recent opinion coming out of a Massachusetts court, the defendant contested the fact that his hearing had been held over Zoom instead of in person. Appealing his guilty verdict, the defendant said his constitutional rights were violated because he was limited to a remote setting. Given the procedures that courts are currently taking because of COVID-19, the court rejected the defendant’s appeal.
The Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the defendant in this case was charged with assault and battery on a family member as well as strangulation. He was being held in prison in March 2020; at the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic began to sweep across the nation. During this time, Massachusetts courts limited in-person court proceedings to emergency matters only. Nonemergency matters were moved to virtual hearings, and defendants appeared at their hearings via Zoom.
In this case, the defendant received a bench trial conducted partially in person and partially online. All participants appeared in person except for the defendant and one of the Commonwealth’s witnesses (a neighbor of the defendant), both of whom participated in the hearing over Zoom. At the end of the hearing, the judge found the defendant guilty of simple assault and battery. The defendant was sentenced to time in prison.