Video arraignments easy on jail, questionable for defendants.

One more sign that Carson City is finding its way into high technology - videoconference arraignments.

It's a solution to a problem that nags jail and justice court workers several mornings a week: Shackling inmates, bringing them up to the court for a five-minute proceeding and then reversing the process.

Now inmates can practically face justice from the comfort of their own cells. Actually, it's from a media room in the jail.

On Wednesday, the first of the new-millenium inmates pleaded innocence and guilt into the lens of a camera. That image is sent to the courtroom where justices of the peace Robey Willis or John Tatro advises them of their rights and sets trial and sentencing dates. A public defender sits in the courtroom and talks to the accused by telephone.

Several cameras allow the defendant to see the courtroom through a monitor.

Public Defender Steve McGuire said although the process saves time, some bugs still have to be worked out. Friday morning, defendants had trouble hearing the courtroom proceedings. The problem was solved when an auxiliary microphone was turned on.

"We feel there have been some technical problems so far, but we are waiting to see how it shakes down," he said. "We have some issues, but we want to give it some more time."

The new system will save about an hour for three jail workers each morning, Tatro said.

"I was a little concerned at first, but it saves the jail a lot of time," he said. "Judge Willis and I, our biggest concern is that the public defender and the defendant can talk in privacy.

"There are a few kinks."

The videconferencing has been used in other jurisdictions throughout the state and country, and has been upheld as legal in court cases, Tatro said.

"This will never be used for anything but an arraignment and cases have been upheld that say it can be used for arraignments," he said. Traditional courtroom appearances will continue for other types of proceedings.


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