Trials & Litigation

Appeals court sides with judge who muted man during remote sentencing

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A federal appeals court ruled Monday that a Missouri man’s rights were not violated when a judge muted him twice during his remote sentencing.

Joshua Braman consented to a videoconference hearing in January 2021 after pleading guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, specifically a sawed-off shotgun, according to a Department of Justice press release. He argued that when Judge Stephen R. Clark of the Eastern District of Missouri muted him, he infringed on his right to counsel and his right to meaningful allocution.

But in its opinion, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at St. Louis said Braman was given two opportunities to speak during the hearing, and it was apparent that Braman consulted his attorney beforehand. During Braman’s second allocution, he referred to a letter from a victim in the case that his attorney had chosen to withhold from the court.

“Braman argues that the muting infringed his ability to communicate with counsel, but he does not explain how,” the 8th Circuit said. “Nor is there any basis to infer that the muting interfered with Braman’s need to consult counsel during the hearing. At no point did he signal—by waving in front of the camera as instructed by the court at the start of the hearing—that he had additional thoughts to share or a need to confer with counsel, who argued on his behalf regarding the issues discussed while he was muted.”

During his hearing, Braman provided a short allocution, in which he said, “I’m at the mercy of the court, you know. I wish I had never broken the law. That’s all I’ve got to say.” But as the court began discussing Braman’s assault of the victim, who he admitted hitting with the shotgun, he interrupted.

“The court responded, ‘That’s not the time to [address] that now,’ and muted Braman, explaining, ‘if there’s anything you want to say, I will give you the opportunity to say something again later but not right now,’” according to the appeals court’s opinion.

The 8th Circuit continued its discussion of the sentencing factors and conditions of supervised release. Braman was then given a second chance to speak, bringing up the victim’s letter and referring to her as a “scorned woman.” His attorney advised him to stop talking, and the judge again muted Braman, telling him that he was “out of line.”

“In these circumstances, the district court did not err, much less plainly err, in muting Braman during portions of the hearing when he would not be expected to speak,” the appeals court said.

The 8th Circuit also affirmed Braman’s 120-month sentence.

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