United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Christopher Lee Joyner, Pro Se Plaintiff;
Margaret Hoehl O'Shea, Office of the Attorney General,
Richmond, Virginia, for Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. Jones, United States District Judge
pro se prisoner civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 is scheduled for a jury trial in this court in Abingdon,
Virginia, on May 18 and 19, 2017, on the plaintiff's
claims of excessive force and bystander liability against
defendants Byington, Kirby, Satterfield, and Coleman. After
consideration of the circumstances and applicable law, I
conclude that the plaintiff's participation in this trial
in person is infeasible and that his participation via
videoconferencing from his current place of incarceration is
an acceptable alternative method of proceeding.
events at issue occurred while the plaintiff, Christopher Lee
Joyner, was incarcerated at Wallens Ridge State Prison
(“Wallens Ridge”), a Virginia Department of
Corrections (“VDOC”) prison facility located in
Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Thereafter, under an interstate
compact, VDOC officials transferred Joyner to a prison
facility in Illinois. VDOC public records indicate that
Joyner is serving a lengthy term of imprisonment, with an
estimated release date of December 10, 2094.
prisoner plaintiff in a § 1983 action has no absolute
right to be physically present at the jury trial of his case.
Muhammad v. Warden, Balt. City Jail, 849 F.2d 107,
111-12 (4th Cir. 1988). “[I]f securing the prisoner's
presence, at his own or public expense, is determined to be
infeasible, ” the court must consider “other
reasonably available alternatives.” Edwards v.
Logan, 38 F.Supp.2d 463, 467 (W.D. Va. 1999) (citing
Muhammad, 849 F.2d at 111, 113). I am constrained to
consider the following factors in choosing an alternative
means of conducting the trial in such circumstances:
(1) Whether the prisoner's presence will substantially
further the resolution of the case, and whether alternative
ways of proceeding . . . offer an acceptable alternative.
(2) The expense and potential security risk entailed in
transporting and holding the prisoner in custody for the
duration of the trial.
(3) The likelihood that a stay pending the prisoner's
release will prejudice his opportunity to present his claim,
or the defendant's right to a speedy resolution of the
Id. at 113.
Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 encourages courts to
utilize audio and video technology to contain costs in
To the extent practicable, in any action brought with respect
to prison conditions . . . by a prisoner . . ., pretrial
proceedings in which the prisoner's participation is
required or permitted shall be conducted by telephone, video
conference, or other telecommunications technology without
removing the prisoner from the facility in which the prisoner
42 U.S.C.A. § 1997e(f)(1). This court has successfully
utilized video conferencing for pretrial proceedings,
evidentiary hearings, and witness testimony for jury trials
in the past.
court has also used video conferencing for the plaintiff in
jury trial proceedings. In the Edwards case,
circumstances mirrored those in the current one. Plaintiff
Edwards, a Virginia inmate, alleged excessive force claims
under § 1983 against Virginia prison officials. After
filing suit, Edwards was transferred to a prison facility in
New Mexico under an interstate compact. Defense counsel moved
to have the trial conducted via video conferencing, with
Edwards to remain in New Mexico. I found it clear that
procuring Edwards' physical presence at trial or
continuing the trial until his release were infeasible
options. Counsel estimated that the cost of transporting
Edwards back to Virginia would be nearly $9, 000, and Edwards
had ten years of prison time yet to serve. Considering ...