JACKSON, Miss. (WDAM) - Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Randolph issued an order Wednesday that will have the court reevaluate the possibility of allowing plea hearings in felony cases to be done by video conference.
The order, Emergency Administrative Order #15, instructs the State Attorney General and the State Public Defender to provide more information to the court on whether the court should allow the hearings by video conference to prevent the spread of COVID-19 into jails.
The Court also clarified that law enforcement can obtain arrest and search warrants through video conferences.
The Attorney General and State Public Defender filed a joint motion on March 25 requesting the Supreme Court to temporarily allow felony plea hearings, sentencing hearings and probation violation hearings to be done by interactive audiovisual equipment.
On March 26, the Court declined to allow plea hearings by video conference but allowed sentencing hearings and probation violation hearings by video conference.
The next day, President Donald Trump signed the CARES Act, which authorized federal courts to use video teleconferences in certain circumstances, including felony pleas, which Randolph acknowledged in Wednesday’s order.
“Furthermore, since the entry of Emergency Administrative Order-7 on March 26, 2020, the increased transmission of the COVID-19 virus has continued to impair the normal functioning of Mississippi state courts,” Randolph said in the order. “While the situation remains fluid, the Court continues to strive in balancing the health risks presented by COVID-19 with the courts’ constitutional and statutory duty to remain open and accessible. To that end, the Court finds the evolving circumstances warrant revisiting the issue of whether to temporarily suspend Rule 1.8( c) as it pertains to the use of ‘interactive audiovisual equipment’ in ‘felony plea’ hearings.”
The Attorney General and the State Public Defender must submit their supplemental briefs on video conference hearings by Aug. 21.