COVID has put a halt to many of our normal ways of functioning, including the way that courts work. As with many other jobs, the work has been taken online — and not without its drawbacks.
This particular issue was a first for Judge Jeffrey Middleton — but thanks to the keen eye of the prosecuting attorney’s assistant, the situation was resolved.
The Zoom hearing was underway for charges leveled against 21-year-old Coby James Harris of Sturgis, Michigan. He and his girlfriend at the time, Mary Lindsey, had gotten into an argument on Feb. 9 that resulted in a charge against him for “assault with intent to commit bodily harm less than murder,” according to the Sturgis Journal.
The hearing proceeded for some seven minutes before Deborah Davis, representing Lindsey, voiced a concern based on what she’d seen from Lindsey since the video started.
“Your Honor, I have reason to believe that the defendant is in the same apartment as the complaining witness right now, and I am extremely scared for her safety,” Davis said.
“And the fact that she’s looking off to the side and he’s moving around, I want some confirmation that she is safe before we continue.”
To suss out whether or not the two were in close proximity, the judge questioned where they were at that moment, asking first Lindsey and then Harris.
“Um, I’m at a house,” Lindsey said. She gave an address on Hatch Street.
Harris gave an East Lafayette Street address.
To confirm, Middleton asked Harris to go outside, take a photo of the address number, and send it. Harris demurred, saying he couldn’t because his phone was plugged in and charging because his battery was low.
Thankfully, the police had been called and were waiting outside Lindsey’s door.
“We may need to adjourn this, your Honor,” Davis said.
Lindsey was directed to answer the door, and Davis asked her to take her phone with her so she could make sure she got out safely. Moments later it became clear that Harris was, indeed, in the same building as Lindsey and had lied.
He immediately began to try to explain himself.
“Your Honor, me and Mary both don’t want the no-contact,” he said. “I ask that be dropped. I’m sorry I lied to you. I knew the cops were outside. I don’t know why I…”
The judge promptly suggested that he be quiet.
“Mr. Harris, my advice is, don’t say anything else,” Middleton said. “Take the cigarette out of your mouth. The hearing is adjourned. Your bond is canceled. If you have $10 million, you can’t bond out. In addition, the prosecutor’s probably also going to charge you with obstruction of justice.”
The original charge Harris faced was a felony charge that could result in up to 10 years of prison time. Now, he might face more.
It was certainly an unusual situation and one that the judge had never experienced before.
“This is an issue we didn’t have when we were having live court,” he said. “This is the first time, to my knowledge … that this has occurred. Kudos to the Sturgis Police Department for following up on this.”
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