Video Appearance Cannot Be Used For Sentencing

Jacob Gershman has an interesting post in the LawBlog of The Wall Street Journal on a recent Michigan case. If followed by other states, the opinion could be significant.

Convicted felons may not be sentenced through videoconferencing but must be given the opportunity to look a judge in the eye, a state appeals court has ruled.

Citing Marshall McLuhan’s famous observation that “the medium is the message,” a Michigan appeals court said a trial judge failed to acknowledge the humanity of a drug offender who watched remotely from a jail as a judge on a screen handed down his sentence from a courtroom.

The appeals court said that while “two-way interactive video technology” saves courts time and money, the practice disrespects the dignity of the defendant.

Hundreds of courtrooms in Michigan are equipped with videoconferencing, and state court rules permit the technology to be used for arraignments, at sentencings for misdemeanor offenses and in other settings. The rules are silent about whether it can be deployed at a felony sentencing.

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