A new technology designed to save taxpayers’ money is being incorporated in Texas County’s law enforcement and judicial systems.
Several areas of the Texas County Justice Center have been outfitted with equipment allowing for arraignments to be done by video. Using cameras and monitors, judges and other officials can now conduct arraignment procedures with representatives of jails, departments or agencies in any similarly equipped location.
That eliminates the need for officers to shuttle litigants to and from sometimes fairly distant locations.
Use of the equipment is coordinated by and scheduled through the Missouri Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA). Texas County Sheriff Department’s Lt. Melissa Dunn said video arraignment gear is in place in every court and juvenile office in Missouri, as well as juvenile detention facilities and prisons around the state.
Texas County temporarily utilized video arraignment technology a couple of years ago, allowing a person to use a courtroom here to testify in a Montana murder case. That kept the person from having to travel, and Montana covered the expenses.
But the county has purchased its own equipment within the last year, and the system is up and running in the justice center’s jail area and each courtroom.
Dunn, who orchestrated procurement and installation, said its use will help streamline many aspects of the arraignment process.
“The way it has always worked is that if we need an inmate here for court, the court has to prepare a writ, the writ has to be served at the prison, and then we have to arrange to drive to the prison that day and pick up the prisoner so he can testify for an hour and then drive him back,” Dunn said. “So you’re looking at two trips to prison, and the gas and wear and tear on the vehicles. You can’t do it with every hearing, but you can with a lot of them, and that’s what we’re trying to get started.”
The equipment basically operates like a high-tech web cam. Cameras can be pointed at persons speaking at hearings either by remote control or voice activation, and monitors can display multiple people at one time.
Dunn said the system is particularly effective in many juvenile cases.
“If they have a hearing here and they want a parent involved who lives somewhere else, they can go to the local juvenile office and be on,” she said. “They can also have the child on the screen at the detention facility. You can have three different facilities online with the courtroom here, and everyone can hear and speak and know what’s going on.”
Increased safety is another plus of the video arraignment system.
“We don’t have to have inmates transported to a courtroom where they’re more apt to have contact with family or friends,” Dunn said. “It just means there’s less chance that the public has to have access to the inmate.”
But financial savings made possible by the equipment are perhaps its primary benefit.
“It’s going to save the county a lot of money,” Dunn said.
“If we can save the expense of two trips to a place like Fulton, we certainly want to do so,” Sheriff Carl Watson said.
Texas County’s video arraignment gear was utilized this week for a hearing involving a man charged with manufacturing marijuana, who was recently sentenced to go back to prison for an unrelated probation violation.
Also in the name of safety, Watson said that metal detecting equipment near the main door of the justice center will now be more frequently used on people entering the building for hearings, trials and other procedures.