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Joyner v. Byington

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

March 1, 2017

CHRISTOPHER LEE JOYNER, Plaintiff,
v.
M. BYINGTON, ET AL., Defendants.

          Christopher Lee Joyner, Pro Se Plaintiff;

          Margaret Hoehl O'Shea, Office of the Attorney General, Richmond, Virginia, for Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          James P. Jones, United States District Judge

         This 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.

         The 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.

         A 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).[1] “[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 claim.

Id. at 113.

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 encourages courts to utilize audio and video technology to contain costs in prisoner litigation:

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 is confined.

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.

         This 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 ยง 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 ...


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