In what would have seemed an extraordinary move before the outbreak of the coronavirus last month, a federal judge in Chicago agreed Wednesday to sentence a man who has pleaded guilty to a gun crime by videoconference rather than delay it further.
U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang’s decision to sentence Malcolm Junious remotely appears to be the first in Chicago since an order from U.S. Chief District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer largely brought federal courts in the city to a halt in mid-March.
Pallmeyer revised her order Monday, allowing for videoconferencing or teleconferencing of felony sentencing or plea hearings only after consultation between an emergency judge, the presiding judge and Pallmeyer.
Otherwise, Pallmeyer ordered all plea and sentencing hearings set to begin on or before May 1 rescheduled. She also delayed all criminal or civil jury trials set to begin on or before May 29.
Defense attorney Mark Kusatzky sought the remote hearing for Junious in a three-page motion Wednesday. It argued that Junious’ ultimate sentence could come close to time served. Records show Junious is being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center downtown.
Two staff members at the MCC, but no inmates, have so far tested positive for the coronavirus.
Junious pleaded guilty in December to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Prosecutors have asked the judge to sentence him to as many as 27 months in prison, while Junious asked for 17 months. He is likely to be credited with time served in custody dating back to November 2018, records show.
His sentencing is set for April 14.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Kusatzky noted that Junious had agreed in writing to the remote sentencing hearing. And though he acknowledged there are reasons for sentencings to generally occur in person — respect for the justice system and public access among them — he said it’s “ultimately the individual’s case.”
“I think it’s an acceptable scenario to do it this way,” Kusatzky said. “You still have the criminal justice system moving forward.”