Illinois Supreme Court Issues Order for Remote Criminal Case Proceedings
February 22, 2021
The Illinois Supreme Court has issued an order in remote criminal case proceedings. The order sets forth which criminal case proceedings can be held remotely in light of the ongoing COVID- 19 pandemic. This order, a proposal from the Illinois Judicial Conference’s Court Operations During COVID-19 Task Force (Task Force), is effective immediately.
The order, M.R. 30370, modifies the Court’s March 17, 2020 order as modified by the order of May 20, 2020.
“This order provides guidance for our courts to address the backlog of criminal cases created by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Chief Justice Anne M. Burke said. “The Supreme Court thanks the Task Force for its work on this important issue.”
While proceedings such as initial appearances, arraignments or indictments, and non-substantive status hearings may be held remotely even over the objection of the defendant, proceedings which include actions such as negotiated pleas, sentencing hearings, or hearings where a plea of guilty will be entered may not be held remotely absent a waiver by the defendant.
In proceedings where a waiver by a defendant is allowed, the decision whether to waive will belong to the defendant and not to defense counsel. The Court will be responsible for letting the defendant know that they have a right to be physically present in the courtroom for every substantive proceeding.
“In criminal proceedings there are constitutional protections that must be safeguarded so guidance from the supreme court on what can be done remotely and under what circumstances is important,” said Task Force Chair J. Timothy Eaton, Partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP. “We are pleased that the court is entering this Order.”
Bench trials or stipulated bench trials may be conducted remotely if the defendant consents in writing and the judge finds that doing so will not jeopardize the integrity of the trial process. Even if the defendant has consented, the court shall not allow a jury trial to be conducted remotely.
Nothing in this order modifies or alters crime victims’ rights as enriched by the Illinois Constitution, which grants victims the right to be present in the same manner as the defendant.
At trial, this gives them the right to be present in person. At other proceedings if the defendant appears remotely, then the victim will be afforded the opportunity to appear in the same manner.
The COVID-19 Task Force was established in June to serve as a rapid response unit to address ongoing challenges to court operations caused by the pandemic. The Task Force is led by Chair Eaton and Vice Chair Hon. Eugene G. Doherty, Chief Judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit.