Do I have to come back to Court?

You were charged with a crime in Wyoming, yet you live somewhere else. Do you have to come back for your Court date?

Like most questions in the law, the answer is “it depends.” The short answer is that for most people, most of the time, you will not need to come back to Wyoming.

The longer answer is that it depends on jurisdiction (what Court you’re in), what you’re charged with, what stage of the proceedings you’re at, and how the case is resolved.

I help people charged in a couple different Courts. If you were charged in Yellowstone or Grand Teton, then you’re in Federal Court, specifically the U.S. District Court for Wyoming.

If you were charged in Teton, Sublette or Lincoln County, then you’re in State Court. If you were charged in Jackson, you may be in Municipal Court.

Each Court follows different rules, and each Judge has different preferences.

Federal Court

In Federal Court, it’s Rule 43 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Rule 43 states:

Defendant’s Presence.

(a) When Required. Unless this rule, Rule 5, or Rule 10 provides otherwise, the defendant must be present at:

(1) the initial appearance, the initial arraignment, and the plea;

(2) every trial stage, including jury impanelment and the return of the verdict; and

(3) sentencing.

(b) When Not Required. A defendant need not be present under any of the following circumstances:

(1) Organizational Defendant. The defendant is an organization represented by counsel who is present.

(2) Misdemeanor Offense. The offense is punishable by fine or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both, and with the defendant’s written consent, the court permits arraignment, plea, trial, and sentencing to occur by video teleconferencing or in the defendant’s absence.

(3) Conference or Hearing on a Legal Question. The proceeding involves only a conference or hearing on a question of law.

(4) Sentence Correction. The proceeding involves the correction or reduction of sentence under Rule 35 or 18 U.S.C. §3582 (c).

(c) Waiving Continued Presence.

(1) In General. A defendant who was initially present at trial, or who had pleaded guilty or nolo contendere, waives the right to be present under the following circumstances:

(A) when the defendant is voluntarily absent after the trial has begun, regardless of whether the court informed the defendant of an obligation to remain during trial;

(B) in a noncapital case, when the defendant is voluntarily absent during sentencing; or

(C) when the court warns the defendant that it will remove the defendant from the courtroom for disruptive behavior, but the defendant persists in conduct that justifies removal from the courtroom.

(2) Waiver’s Effect. If the defendant waives the right to be present, the trial may proceed to completion, including the verdict’s return and sentencing, during the defendant’s absence.

What does this mean for you?

If it’s a misdemeanor (anything punishable by less than one year in jail, such as Driving Under the Influence or Possession of a Controlled Substance), then you can waive your presence. The Court requires a written waiver, but does not require “wet ink” signature. That means your attorney can email you a document, you can sign it and then return it to your attorney, who files it with the Court. Then, for certain kinds of hearings, you can appear by phone. For example, you can appear by phone at a sentencing hearing. But you can’t appear by phone at a trial (although, I suppose you could ask for special permission).

State Court

In State Court, it’s Rule 43 of the Wyoming Rules of Criminal Procedure. Rule 43 states:

Presence of Defendant.
(a) Presence required. – The defendant shall be present at the initial appearance at the arraignment, at the time of the plea, at every stage of the trial including the impaneling of the jury and the return of the verdict, and at the imposition of sentence, except as otherwise provided by this rule.
(b) Continued presence not required. – The further progress of the trial to and including the return of the verdict shall not be prevented and the defendant shall be considered to have waived the right to be present whenever a defendant, initially present:
(1) Is voluntarily absent after the trial has commenced (whether or not the defendant has been informed by the court of the obligation to remain during the trial); or
(2) After being warned by the court that disruptive conduct will cause the removal of the defendant from the courtroom, persists in conduct which is such as to justify exclusion from the courtroom.
(c) Presence not required. – A defendant need not be present in the following situations:
(1) A corporation may appear by counsel for all purposes;
(2) In prosecutions for offenses punishable by fine or by imprisonment for not more than one year or both, the court, with the written consent of the defendant, may permit arraignment, plea, trial, and imposition of sentence in the defendant’s absence;
(3) At a conference or argument upon a question of law; and
(4) At a reduction of sentence under Rule 35.

What does this mean for you?

Under W.R.Cr.P. 43(c)(2), if it’s a misdemeanor (anything punishable by less than one year in jail, such as Driving Under the Influence or Possession of a Controlled Substance), then you can waive your presence. The Court requires a written waiver, but does not require “wet ink” signature. That means your attorney can email you a document, you can sign it and then return it to your attorney, who files it with the Court. Then, for certain kinds of hearings, you can appear by phone. You can appear by phone at a conference upon a question of law. So if your attorney is making a purely legal argument, then you don’t need to be there. If you can get the judge to sign off on it, you don’t need to be there for a plea. While the rule allows you to be absent at a trial, I doubt the judge would agree to that, absent extraordinary circumstances.

Photo: Flickr
Alex FreeburgDo I have to come back to Court?