Applying the Due Process Clause of the Constitution to Electronic Court Hearings

With the passing of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the legal landscape in Texas has undergone significant transformations. Notably, there has been a marked increase in remote court hearings and adjudications, a trend that persists even as the threat of illness has diminished. The increase in the number and scope of remote proceedings has sparked additional constitutional inquiries, particularly regarding the rights of Texas criminal defendants participating in hearings from a distance. A recent ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals highlighted one such instance where a defendant’s federal constitutional right to due process was deemed violated during a Zoom hearing. The defendant found himself sequestered in a breakout room with his microphone muted, effectively barring communication with the court or his legal counsel.

According to the findings outlined in the judicial opinion, the defendant was in court facing allegations of a potential probation violation stemming from a prior conviction. Previous transcripts revealed that the defendant had been reprimanded by the judge for attempting to interject during proceedings, leading to the muting of his microphone and his relocation to an isolated electronic space. In this separate room, he was unable to confer with his attorney on how to address the witness testifying against him. Following the adjudication hearing, the defendant received a ten-year confinement sentence for the alleged probation violation.

The defendant appealed this ruling to a higher court, contending that his fundamental rights under the Confrontation Clause and Due Process Clause of the Constitution were violated when he was excluded from participating in the hearing that resulted in his imprisonment. On the initial appeal, the court found merit in the defendant’s argument, determining that his rights under the Confrontation Clause had indeed been infringed as he was unable to confront the witnesses against him. The State then escalated the case to the highest criminal appellate court in Texas, which scrutinized the events through the lens of the Due Process Clause. Ultimately, the high court concluded that the defendant possessed a fundamental right to be physically present at the hearing, and by muting and sequestering him, this right was compromised. Consequently, the appellate ruling dictated a reversal of the defendant’s adjudicated commitment, potentially sparing him from serving time for the alleged violation.

Finding a Dedicated Texas Criminal Defense Attorney for Probation Violations

If you have been charged with a Texas crime or probation violation, you could be facing a significant jail or prison commitment if the proceedings do not go your way. AS the policies and procedures employed in Texas courts evolve along with technology, laceration legal questions can become less clear-cut. The qualified Texas criminal defense attorneys at Guest and Gray come prepared to argue both classic and novel legal issues to seek a result in your favor. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime or probation violation in Texas, we may be able to help. At Guest and Gray, we represent people with any Texas criminal issue, including probation violations. Reach out through our website or by calling our office today to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

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