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Justice Courts Will See All Prisoners Via Video

5/25/16

Judge Gerald A. Williams
North Valley Justice of the Peace

Justice Courts are working with other Maricopa County agencies and have developed a new and better system for resolving cases involving people who have been arrested. Rather than the current system of seeing prisoners only on a scheduled day each week, justices of the peace, through the use of technology, will be able to interact with prisoners every weekday.

Under the current system, if someone is arrested on an active arrest warrant, they will see a Superior Court judicial officer within 24 hours. However, if that judge or commissioner puts a bond on them, then they may not be released from custody for several days.

For some people in our society, a $200 bond might as well be a $200,000 bond. If they cannot come up with the funds, then they are stuck in jail.  

For example, my court does video arraignments every Thursday morning, which is bad news if you are arrested on a Friday. If you cannot up with bond money, then you are likely stuck in jail for nearly a week.

If I release the defendant and give him or her a new court date, there is a chance they won’t appear. A new warrant would be issued for their arrest and the process starts all over again.       

Under the new system, a justice of the peace will be immediately notified when someone is arrested. Then sometime between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day, the justice of the peace will be asked to interrupt whatever they are doing and see the prisoner via a video link.

A prosecutor and a public defender will also be available. Their presence is significant because it will allow most cases to be resolved at that time. The days of releasing a defendant from jail and giving him or her yet another court date, in many cases, will be over. 

There will also be a significant cost savings because prisoners will no longer need to be transported to 26 various justice courts throughout Maricopa County. Many people arrested on a warrant from a justice court also have pending felony charges that are keeping them in jail. It’s a poor use of resources to transport someone in jail for armed robbery to a justice court to deal with a misdemeanor charge. It’s also not completely safe.

One set of people are arguably in jail because they are poor. Unpaid civil traffic tickets result in criminal charges of driving on a suspended license. Their job will not likely be waiting for them if they are stuck in jail for a week – and the hole they are in just gets deeper. If they are not already homeless, then I may see them on my eviction calendar.     

There is no need to force people to go down such a road. It is one thing to make sure that convicted criminals serve the required amount of confinement in accordance with the terms of their sentence. It is quite another to keep arresting and jailing people whose main offense is that they are not paying their fines. 

I am actually excited about the new video appearance system; which is scheduled to be ready on June 13, 2016. It is more efficient, saves tax dollars, and provides a real world Get Out of Jail Card for hundreds of people with limited means. 

There are plenty of factors that contribute to cycles of poverty. Our court system should not be one of them.     

Judge Williams is the Justice of the Peace for the North Valley Justice Court. His column appears monthly in The Foothills Focus.