By Mike Linn
PNT Managing Editor
Once just a cool tool used in science fiction flicks, the video conference system has now made its way to the Portales Municipal Court.
The new video system will allow Municipal Judge Fred Arnold to arraign inmates incarcerated at the Roosevelt County Detention Center from his office.
The Portales city council on Tuesday voted to accept an agreement with the New Mexico Supreme Court to be the first city court to begin the Municipal Court Automation Project. The new arraignment system will save money typically used to transport inmates to court from the RCDC, local law enforcement officials say.
Moreover, it will allow police officers to patrol the streets rather than guard over inmates in court for arraignments.
“The new video system is going to help everybody, and be a smother process so people aren’t being shuffled back and forth,” Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Berry said.
The new system will cost nothing for the city to operate, as much of the equipment is already at the RCDC because the Roosevelt County Magistrate Court has been using the system for almost two years.
On an average week police officers will transport a handful of inmates to be arraigned in Municipal Court, Berry said. Magistrate Court Judge Jane Martin arraigns anywhere from two to 12 every morning at 10 a.m. via the video conference, according to Diane Mains, the court’s chief clerk.
Video arraignments in magistrate court typically take about 10 to 20 minutes per inmate, Mains noted.
“If the inmates come to court they have to be escorted and supervised and staffing is a little more difficult for the jail and for the sheriff’s department to have to bring them over here than it is to just put them all in a room over there,” Mains said.
The city would only incur expenses if the video arraignment system is damaged; all other expenses, which include a monthly DSL connection fee, will be funded by the New Mexico Supreme Court.
The contract is for one year, and if the New Mexico Legislature does not appropriate sufficient funds for the system it may be canceled. If the new system works well in Portales Municipal Court other municipal courts statewide may start using video arraignment as well.