Video Arraignments Becoming a Reality in Chatham County

Handling arraignments via video conference.
Handling arraignments via video conference.

Remember the the courthouse shootings in Atlanta in March? An inmate killed a judge and three sheriff's deputies.

Chatham County court officials sure haven't forgotten it. Today they unveiled a project that would make their courtrooms safer for everyone. They found a way to keep hundreds of jail inmates out of the courthouse in any given week.

Chatham County sheriff Al St. Lawrence and Judge Lawrence Dillon are joining forces to make video arraignments a reality. They hope in the near future, anyone arrested for a crime and jailed will make his or her first court appearance without ever leaving the jail.

The inmates can see and hear what's going on in the courtroom, and the judge and attorneys can see and hear them.

Other than advising defendants of their constitutional rights, all the judge does at these arraignments is read the charges, ask them if they have an attorney, and set their bond.

"I think this provides a little more efficient use of the court's number one resource, which is the judge's time," said Recorder's Court clerk Brian Hart.

It also saves time and money--like gas money--for the sheriff's deputies who would normally transport the inmates to court. "Where this operation took 40 to 45 minutes, we're looking at four hours the old way," said Sheriff St. Lawrence of today's video arraignment.

But again, the number one reason for the video arraignments is safety. "The more we can do to protect judges and court personnel and the public, everybody should be in favor of it," said the sheriff.

They say video arraignments will cut down on inmates taken to court by 44 percent and will not affect inmates' rights. For every other court hearing and trial, they will be present in the courtroom.

Defense attorneys support it.

Reported by: Michelle Paynter,