Zoom court was a result of circumstances, but it is something that should be (and in many places, already has) done away with as soon as possible. An incident in Michigan back in March is a great illustration of why.
According to CTV News, 21-year-old Coby James Harris was in court on March 2nd in relation to an assault with intent to cause bodily harm charge. The victim, Mary Lindsey, was also on the call, and took the “stand” to testify.
But, the outlet reported that prosecutor Deborah Davis noticed something strange. Whenever Lindsay would answer questions, she would look at something — or someone — away from the camera.
That’s when it clicked for Davis.
“Your honor, I have reason to believe that the defendant is in the same apartment as the complaining witness right now and I’m extremely scared for her safety,” Davis said.
“And the fact that she’s looking off to the side and he’s moving around, I want some confirmation that she is safe,” she continued.
Judge Jeffrey Middleton immediately asked Harris and Lindsay where they were, and both answered that they were in their respective homes. But when Middleton asked Harris to prove it by showing the house number on his phone’s camera, the excuses starting pouring out.
“I don’t even think this phone has the charge for that. I’m at like two percent right now. I’m hooked up to the wall charger right here,” Harris lamented.
Judge Middleton wasn’t buying it, and sent officers to investigate Lindsay’s apartment. When they got there, they found Harris with her, which was a violation of a no-contact order, according to CTV News.
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“Your honor, me and Mary both don’t want the no-contact. I ask that that be dropped. I’m sorry I lied to you. I knew the cops were outside,” Harris said, as he was being arrested. But Judge Middleton doesn’t like liars, and had no sympathy for Harris.
“Mr. Harris, my advice is don’t say anything else,” Middleton replied. “The hearing is adjourned. Your bond is canceled. If you have $10 million, you can’t bond out. In addition, the prosecutor’s probably also going to charge you with obstruction of justice.”
The judge also had a message for the court.
“This is an issue we didn’t have when we had live court. This is the first time to my knowledge, if he is in the same venue, that this has occurred,” Middleton postulated. “That’s the first time I ever had anybody sitting in the next room, potentially intimidating a witness.”
Twitter commended the prosecutor for her good eye, which averted a potential tragedy:
Thanks to the prosecutor paying attention to his/her computer screen, perhaps preventing further violence against the victim (from the accused).
— Mireille Longtin (@MireilleLongtin) March 10, 2021
How scary. Ms. Davis did the right thing and probably saved that woman from another beating!
Good for her!
— Jennifer (@TomsMom1997) March 10, 2021
All in all, Judge Middleton is dead-on. Virtual court is problematic for a multitude of reasons, but add the issue for potential victim/witness intimidation, this certainly makes it one of the most important.
The vaccines are here. The pandemic is nearing its end. Any locality that is still holding Zoom hearings should go back to normal.
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