A guilty plea by a defendant is more than an admission of conduct; it is the nail in the coffin that closes the case and results in conviction. Despite the critical importance of this moment, Arkansas district and circuit courts are more commonly taking guilty pleas from defendants by video teleconferencing (VTC) instead of requiring defendants to be physically present in the courtroom. This essay sets forth three separate arguments in support of the notion that a guilty plea to a criminal offense by VTC without the defendant being present in open court is invalid as a matter of Arkansas law and unconstitutional as a matter of due process.
Specifically, pleading guilty by VTC is improper under Arkansas law because there are no statutes or court rules explicitly permitting a defendant to plead guilty to a criminal offense by VTC. Moreover, Arkansas statute and court rules require a defendant's presence in open court in order to plead guilty to a felony offense. Finally, regarding due process considerations, a defendant's actual presence in the courtroom is necessary because of the critical nature of the guilty plea. In particular, the limitations inherent in VTC communication render it a poor substitute for face-to-face communication between the defendant and judge because VTC cannot completely transmit nonverbal communication. In conclusion, the authors assert that any changes in the procedure for taking guilty pleas should be taken out of the hands of county sheriffs and bailiffs, and put into the hands of the Arkansas Supreme Court in its rule-making capacity.
William R. Simpson Jr., Clint Miller, and David Sudduth,
The Invalidity of a Plea of Guilty to a Criminal Offense Made by Video Teleconferencing When the Defendant Is Not Present in Open Court,
34 U. Ark. Little Rock L. Rev. 383
Available at: http://lawrepository.ualr.edu/lawreview/vol34/iss2/4