A South Florida appeals court Wednesday ordered new hearings for four juveniles who objected to delinquency hearings being held by video conference amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
A three-judge panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal said the juveniles were denied due process because Miami-Dade County circuit judges did not “render case-specific findings of necessity before ordering delinquency adjudicatory hearings to proceed via a video-conferencing platform.”
Trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Florida Supreme Court issued administrative orders in 2020 that set guidelines for court proceedings across the state, including the use of video conferences.
Wednesday’s ruling came in consolidated cases involving juveniles identified by the initials J.T.B., D.S., F.L. and W.B.
In three of the cases, delinquency hearings were held completely through video conference, while in the D.S. case, the juvenile and his mother appeared remotely. In each case, the juveniles were found delinquent after circuit judges turned down their objections to video conferencing.
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“In three of the four cases, D.S. being the lone exception, the entire proceeding was conducted on a remote platform, meaning none of the participants — parties, witnesses, or counsel — were physically in the courtroom with the judge, who also served as fact finder, during the adjudicatory hearing,” said the 14-page ruling, written by Judge Bronwyn Miller and joined by Judges Kevin Emas and Alexander Bokor.
“In the absence of case-specific findings, we are left to speculate as to whether the request for in-person appearances could have been readily accommodated or a short delay would have allowed for a return to the courtroom.”
The ruling did not detail the delinquency allegations against the juveniles.