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Jefferson County moving to centralized arraignments

Published: Oct. 5, 2021 at 6:19 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - There’s an old saying: the wheels of justice turn slowly. In Jefferson County, there’s an effort to speed things up with centralized arraignments.

Public defenders, attorneys, and town or village judges have to be on call all the time in Jefferson County. That’s because arraignments in the county can happen in any court in the county at anytime of day.

“That has made it much more problematic to get everyone to that 2 a.m. arraignment in a town court,” said Sarah Baldwin, deputy county administrator.

Arraignments have to happen in a timely manner, too. Recent criminal justice reform calls for defendants to have a lawyer by their side at the arraignment hearing. That can be difficult to manage for a small law enforcement community spread across a large area.

“You could conceivably for instance arraign somebody in Ellisburg and then turn around and have somebody waiting in Alex Bay. The same people have to pick up and drive all the way there,” said Jefferson County Legislature Chair Scott Gray.

The new system calls for centralized arraignments. They’ll all be held in Watertown City Court during the day and at the Metro Jefferson Public Safety building in the evening. Town and village judges and justices will be on a rotating schedule for those shifts. They will be authorized to arraign for the whole county. Baldwin says the new system will speed-up the process.

“If someone happens to get stopped at 8 p.m., that law enforcement officer can bring the person right in,” she said.

Jefferson County joins Onondaga, Oswego, and Oneida counties in centralized arraignments.

Gray says this will also free-up police officers, since they don’t have to wait a long time for an arraignment.

Construction is being done in the lobby of the public safety building; that’s where the judge’s bench will go. It’s expected to be done next month.

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