Does the Defendant Have to Be Present During a Pretrial Meeting Between Lawyers and Judge ?

In Coney v. State, 653 So. 2d 1009, 1012 (Fla. 1995), the Court explained that it is error for the defendant not to be present during a pretrial meeting between the lawyers and the judge. However, the court concluded that the error was harmless in Coney's case because the meeting was a routine status conference prompted by a delayed trial date, where several technical, procedural, and legal issues were discussed, and that the defendant's presence would not have assisted the defense in any way. Id. at 1012-13. Coney also involved the defendant's absence from the immediate site of a bench conference where pretrial juror challenges were exercised, even though the defendant was present in the courtroom. This Court clarified that "presence" means being physically present at the immediate site where pretrial juror challenges are exercised. Id. at 1013. However, the court also ruled that this clarification was prospective only in application and that in Coney's case any error was harmless as the conferences "involved a legal issue toward which Coney would have had no basis for input." 653 So. 2d at 1013.