Video Arraignments Proposed In Legislature

State lawmakers are poised to allow the resumption of video arraignments that were used during the COVID-19 pandemic but ended once the pandemic was over.

Assemblyman Pat Burke, D-Buffalo, and Sen. James Skoufis have introduced bills (A.9600/S.6114) to allow electronic arraignment in counties that aren’t wholly included within a city. Courts would be able to use an electronic arraignment if the defendant has waived their right to appear in-person, if an in-person arraignment would result in an unreasonable delay in the preliminary proceeding, and if the chief administrator of the court has authorized the use of an electronic arraignment for the court.

The lawmakers say the pandemic showed there is no longer a need for in-person arraignments thanks to modern video and audio equipment and the use of that technology to meet social distancing requirements as courts were reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Historically, defendants have been required to be physically present during arraignment proceedings,” Skoufis and Burke wrote in their legislative justification. “The county holding arraignment proceedings must bear the cost of transporting defendants from a secure location to the court for the defendants’ personal appearance. This presents a significant cost to the host county of the proceedings.”

Chautauqua County began using a Centralized Arraignment Program in 2019, led by Marilyn Gerace, Ellicott town justice. All police departments except for the Jamestown and Dunkirk police departments take individuals charged with a serious felony or misdemeanor charge to Mayville so they can be arraigned at the soonest possible time by town justices in a central place. There is a cost for police departments to transport defendants to Mayville, and there is a cost to run the program.

Those arrested on serious felony or misdemeanor charges in Jamestown and Dunkirk are often held in a city jail until they can be arraigned when court opens the next day.

“This legislation will allow video arraignments when appropriate,” Skoufis and Burke wrote. “Electronic arraignments will reduce the financial burden that in-person arraignments have on the counties. By reducing the need to transport a defendant, this reduces the amount of time the state must spend on arraignments. Since a defendant does not have to leave where they are being held this also means these proceedings don’t require them to be moved to a new space.”


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