Mass. Trial In Absentia Program Called Illegal

Bristol District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter has launched a pilot program to try criminal defendants even when they don't show up for court, a practice defense lawyers are calling unconstitutional.

Sutter said the program is meant to discourage defendants from missing court dates.

"Perhaps creating some worry in defendants that we might ask the judge to make this the test case, that may do something to curb the defaults and that's an option that we want to have," Sutter said.

The program is under way in Fall River, where defendants sign waivers allowing prosecutors to move forward with their cases even if they are not in court.

He said defaults are a big problem across the state.

Peter Elikann, a Boston defense attorney speaking on behalf of the Massachusetts Bar Association, tells The Standard-Times of New Bedford that the program is unconstitutional because the 6th Amendment guarantees someone the right to confront their accusers at trial.

He says convictions under the program would be reversed on appeal.

This program aired on February 7, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.


More from WBUR

Listen Live