SCHENECTADY COUNTY – Schenectady County took the next step Tuesday evening toward having centralized arraignment to cover after-hour arraignments for town and village courts.
The Legislature voted 14-0 on a resolution supporting the creation of a centralized arraignment court. Richard Ruzzo, D-Schenectady, was absent. No Legislators commented on the resolution.
That court will take place inside a room at the county correctional facility.
“It’s probably about 90% finished,” said Mark Caruso, the supervising judge for town and village courts for Schenectady County.
He said the county and Office of Court Administration are going over the equipment needed for the space.
Centralized arraignment would work by having people arrested after hours, such as late at night or on the weekend, detained at the County Jail and then arraigned either in the morning or afternoon the following day at the centralized arraignment court, Caruso said.
That process will also be used for people who are arrested in a town on a day that town court would not be meeting. So, someone arrested in Niskayuna on a Monday would be arraigned at at the centralized arraignment court since the town justices only hear criminal cases on Wednesday evenings.
During the week those arrested in the city will appear in City Court because it meets Monday through Friday, Caruso said. The court would be staffed by the town justices on a rotating schedule. After their first court appearance people would reappear in the court of the municipality where they were arrested.
Centralized arraignment is meant to make the process more efficient, Caruso said.
For example, Sheriff’s Department officers won’t need to transport those charged with crimes to various town courts on the weekend.
“With the County Sheriff’s Office taking over detention, local police agencies will be able to keep more police officers on patrol for more hours,” said Erin Roberts, the director of public communications for the county. “It will also help ensure defendants have access to counsel at their first appearance.”
Public Defender Stephen Signore said the idea for centralized arraignment is not new and was being worked on before the pandemic hit.
“Centralized arraignment has always been out there on the blackboard,” he said.
Warren, Washington and Cortland counties also have centralized arraignment courts, Caruso said.
Because all people appearing in court are required to have an attorney present whether they can afford one or not, Signore said centralized arraignment will help in providing counsel.
“It really does help out a lot,” Signore said.
He said his office has seven, two-attorney teams that will have a rotating schedule. The Conflict Defender’s Office also will have one attorney on rotation available for arraignments.
County District Attorney Robert Carney said this will not affect his office much because attorneys from his office don’t generally attend court on someone’s first appearance. He said they would only attend the proceeding if they were needed for a bail recommendation, but that could be handled over the phone.
Caruso said it’s likely towns will have resolutions coming up to also support centralized arraignment.