Michigan courts direct video-arraignment technology


The Macomb County Circuit Court is in Mt. Clemens. Photo via macombcountymi.gov

LANSING — A Michigan county is partnering with the state to expand its video-arraignment technology to other jurisdictions in the state, reducing the need to transport criminals from jails to courtrooms.

Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said that video arraignment of defendants who are being held outside county borders is safer and cost-effective.

“Using interactive video conference technology will help us save money, operate more efficiently and improve security at the court,” Wickersham said. An arraignment is a formal reading of the charges to a defendant who is being prosecuted.

A two-way video system will be used to conduct such judicial proceedings for suspects held at local or county jails and statewide prison facilities.

The technology is similar to popular video conferencing programs such as Skype or FaceTime.

Counties such as Macomb, Wayne and Oakland have already implemented video arraignment systems, but state funding will help create a video network, so the technology can eventually be used throughout Michigan.

According to Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, the system allows courts to work together more efficiently. “The expansion will greatly improve the way our courts will be able to interact with other court systems throughout the state.”

In addition to preventing the risk and liability of prisoner transport, video arraignments also speed up the trial process, Hackel said.

For example, defendants who will be tried in a Macomb County court may be held in a jail in northern Michigan where they’ve been arrested.

Costs mount from their round-trip travel and overnight housing. According to Hackel, such arraignment trips typically require two deputies and a county vehicle to transport the prisoner.

The video system allows the arraignment to occur in minutes, without the prisoner leaving a secure facility.

Video arraignments also can be used for pleas and sentencing.

The project began last year with the installation of video systems in the Macomb County circuit and probate courts. In March, the service was expanded to district courts and law enforcement agencies.

Participating district courts include those in Romeo, New Baltimore, Shelby Township and Clinton Township.

Police departments in Shelby and Clinton Township also are setting up video systems. Other participating departments include Utica and Chesterfield Township.

Hackel said that the Department of Corrections also will save money transporting state-held prisoners to local courts.

Oakland County has seen similar success with its OakVideo video arraignment system, a division of its Courts and Law Enforcement Management Information System.

According to an OakVideo efficiency report, in the first two years the system saved the county $6.1 million.

Robert Daddow, the county’s deputy executive, said the greatest benefits came from saved time.

“The time saved by local law enforcement is being redeployed into more productive endeavors, including allowing law enforcement officers to provide additional patrol services,” Daddow said. “They can also work case files that might have otherwise gone unaddressed.”

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