Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Second Circuit: No Error in Blocking New York Parolee from Attending His Own Civil Rights Trial Against Prison Officials

While Ronald Davidson was a New York state prisoner he filed a federal civil rights action in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York alleging prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Thirteen years later, in 2016, he was paroled to New York City. The next year, the lawsuit was set for a bench trial.

The attorney filed a motion asking the court to order parole officials to grant Davidson permission to travel and for the court to pay his travel and lodging expenses. In the motion, he said he had encouraged Davidson to seek permission to travel, but it was unclear whether Davidson had done so, or even worked against him by telling parole officials to ignore the request, but Davidson had indicated he was willing to participate via video conferencing. The court later granted Davidson permission to testify on the first day of trial using a video link from a federal court in New York City and to listen to the rest of the trial via telephone because the video facility was not available for that long.

Davidson testified via video link, but technical difficulties caused him to miss about 13% of the live testimony via phone. He was given multiple opportunities to privately conference with his attorney on the phone. The court ruled against him, and Davidson appealed on the grounds that the court should have granted his motion and allowed his in-person appearance.

The Second Circuit noted that the district court had the authority to issue a writ of habeas corpus ad testificandum (“Writ”) to compel the appearance of a parolee and require the parolee’s custodian to provide transportation. However, Davidson did not request a Writ and what Davidson requested was quite different from the relief offered by a Writ.

The court noted that a parolee has “no constitutional right to be present, or to testify, at his own civil trial.” The parolee’s right of “access to courts” is satisfied by an “opportunity to consult with counsel and to present his case to the court.” Further, Davidson failed to demonstrate the necessity of his physical presence at trial or that he had pursued other available avenues for receiving permission to travel to the trial, both requirements for the Writ to issue.

The court held that, even if it were error, it would be harmless because Davidson failed to show how his absence changed the outcome of the trial. Therefore, it affirmed the district court’s judgment. See: Davidson v. Desai, 964 F.3d 122 (2d Cir. 2020). 

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Davidson v. Desai