In United States v. LeRoux, the Second Circuit considered for the first time what findings were required under the CARES Act to sentence a defendant by videoconference as opposed to in person. The court ruled that the District Court properly sentenced the defendant by videoconference.
At the outset of the pandemic, the CARES Act set forth conditions that would need to be met for videoconferencing and telephone conferencing in criminal cases. The defendant, who had been convicted of running a mercenary group responsible for a string of murders, was sentenced by videoconference. After confirming that the defendant had access to the videoconference, the ability to speak with his lawyer, and had waived his right to in-person sentencing, the judge sentenced the defendant to 25 years in prison. The District Court re-sentenced the defendant, again by videoconference, after finding that it made a minor error in sentencing.
The Second Circuit reviewed the CARES Act provision and explained its purpose. The CARES Act was intended to keep the criminal justice system functioning when courts were physically closed for in-person proceedings. In part, this was to protect the defendant’s and their own rights.
Here, the CARES Act did the following:
- Created a statutory exception to the defendant’s right to be physically present during sentencing
- Removed the ban in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure on videoconferencing from the courtroom
In this case, the court found that the conditions for videoconferenced sentencing were met because the judge properly found that the public health would be jeopardized by in-person sentencing and the interests of justice would be harmed by delaying the sentencing any further.
LeRoux contended that the district court did not properly confirm that he intended to waive his right to an in-person proceeding, as was required by the CARES Act. The Second Circuit reviewed the transcript and found that LeRoux had unmistakably given his verbal approval of a videoconference sentencing. He had a “lengthy” discussion with his attorney about the merits of this means of sentencing. His counsel had explicitly informed the judge that he was amenable to going ahead with sentencing by videoconferencing. LeRoux had similarly given his consent in the re-sentencing when the court was correcting an earlier mistake. Accordingly, the Second Circuit found that there was nothing in the record that showed that LeRoux did not consent, and he could not challenge the means of sentencing.
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