These days, lots of court hearings are done virtually. Virtual court comes in several flavors, you can either appear by video conference on an app like MS Teams, or you can appear by phone.
Some virtual hearings are video only, others permit phone calls. How a judge wants you to appear for court will depend on the type of hearing involved. If the hearing is just a pretrial, for example, some judges will permit everyone to appear telephonically.
If you’re going to enter a plea virtually, most judges will not allow your client to appear by phone. Many judges want defendants to appear on the screen, visually, for a plea. And, there’s a minority of judges out there that still won’t allow for any sort of virtual plea–they want the defendant physically in the courthouse.
Presumably, the reason for a physical appearance at the courthouse is the taking of fingerprints, especially if the crime is an “enhanceable offense”. Shoplifting or petit theft, for example, is an enhanceable offense. In other words, your second petit theft is a more serious crime than the first, and a third petit theft can turn into a felony. In order to prove an upgraded offense, the prosecutors must prove the old offense via the fingerprints taken at the time of plea. For those judges willing to take a plea on an upgradable offense without taking fingerprints at the courthouse, they are making the defendant obtain fingerprints at a law enforcement agency before the plea (very difficult to do these days), or, turn in a fingerprint card within 30 days of the plea.
The one thing that trips up folks is when a judge requires a video waiver for a court appearance. So, here’s a sample Video Waiver with a warning, I’m sure these things will evolve over time, and your judge may have a preferred waiver form, so check yourself before you wreck yourself. Anyway, here’s an example waiver:
I, the undersigned defendant, do hereby agree to enter a plea and be sentenced [or be a participant/part in an evidentiary and/or non-evidentiary hearing, violation of probation hearing, or a non-jury trial] via video hookup between the Court [and the County Jail/the defendant/etc]. I understand the entire proceedings are being digitally recorded.
I waive my physical presence in the Courtroom for my plea and sentence [evidentiary/noon-evidentiary hearing, violation of probation hearing or non-jury trial]. I am executing this Waiver freely, voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently.
This shall be deemed a plea and sentence [evidentiary/noon-evidentiary hearing, violation of probation hearing or non-jury trial] with all the Constitutional rights and privileges as if performed in open court. I also waive all requirements of pleas and sentencings [evidentiary/noon-evidentiary hearing, violation of probation hearing or non-jury trial] that are cited in the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure and Florida case law.
Signature_________________(Defendant / printed name)
Signature_________________(Defense Attorney / printed name, bar number)