Federal Crimes Blog

Do You Have to Personally Appear in Federal Criminal Court?

Posted by Hedding Law Firm | Mar 17, 2021

When it comes to federal criminal cases, over the last 27 years, I would answer that question yes, absolutely.  There's no way you can phone in your appearance in a federal criminal case.

Now, with the Coronavirus, that's pretty much the only way the federal courts are doing business.  I've had a number of sentencings where my client wanted to appear in person.

Basically, it was very clear to me that they were not going to allow that to happen.  One, we refused to sign the stipulation to continue it, so the court continued it on its own motion.

Video Court Appearances

The bottom line is, at this point as I make this post, all federal criminal cases, for the most part, are via video.  There are some exceptions.

Do You Have to Personally Appear in Federal Criminal Court?

I was recently in downtown Los Angeles at the Roybal Building for a new arraignment.  My client was being brought in for the first time.

I wanted to make sure that I made a strong argument to try to get him out, so I ended up appearing in person on that particular case. I was able to get him out, but I'll tell you right now, the front door was locked.  You couldn't get in.

The Marshalls were there at the metal detector but they had to call up to the courtroom to get one of the Marshalls to come down and confirm that our case was on calendar before they would let us in.

Trust me, they didn't want to let us in.  These older federal judges, in my opinion, do not want people in their courtrooms.

To a degree, I can't blame them, but by the same token, these are serious criminal cases where people are facing many months in federal prison at 85%.

So, I think, being a strong advocate, if it's possible, you should definitely try to get in there face to face.  Of course, you'll wear and mask and social distance.

Following Federal Court Procedures

The bottom line is, at this point, all we can do is follow court procedures.  We obviously don't want to make the judge mad because that's the person who is typically going to sentence the defendant if that's what you're going to go into court for.

Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer

I don't know how normal it will return to.  Eventually, once people are vaccinated, they're going to let people in the courtrooms.

One question I have though, is whether or not maybe this will just continue to be an option moving forward:

  • where your defendant can waive their presence;
  • where you can appear via video or via phone.

I kind of like it.  It seems like the new way of doing business.

But when it comes to criminal defense, in my opinion, if it's a serious proceeding where you're trying to get something for your client, such as motion, a sentencing or, obviously, a trial, there's no way they're going to let you phone that it in.

Those things in my opinion, if possible, should be done in person.  But at this time as I make this post, where in February 2021, they're not letting people into the federal courts.  For the most part, everything is being done via video.

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