With the help of state funding, a new policy has taken effect in the Newark and Palmyra courts, where no matter what hour of the day, when an individual is brought in for an arraignment, a public defender will be called in to assist them.
“In the past, it would’ve just been happenstance if we were at court when they showed up,” Wayne County Public Defender James Kernan told the Times of Wayne County on Wednesday. “Occasionally, maybe, if something really serious was happening, we might get called in.”
The funding for the new policy comes from the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services, which works with the counties in the state to provide effective assistance of counsel to those that cannot afford an attorney
According to Kernan, the policy is only in effect at those two courts because the Public Defenders Office doesn’t have the resources to cover the entire county. There is a list of attorneys that can be called upon for arraignments that are brought in during off hours when the office is closed.
Kernan would prefer that the entire county was covered, but he doesn’t feel that it is a possibility.
“I don’t know that in a far-flung county like this we could ever cover all of these courts. That would take a tremendous amount of personnel and money,” Kernan explained. “Some counties, like Ontario, have city courts, so they do centralized arraignments, but we don’t have any of those courts because we don’t have any cities.”
“You would have to go off to every individual justice court, and I would be overly optimistic if I said that we are going to be able to do all of that within the foreseeable future because we are not.”
For the few weeks that the policy has been in place, Kernan said that everything has gone smoothly with only a couple small hiccups.
Newark Justice Mike Miller stated that the policy has not changed his job.
“The only thing that is different is you now have attorneys present with people who are brought in to be arraigned. Even in the middle of the night, we just give them a call and [the defendants] have counsel present,” Miller said. “I’ve always advised people of their rights when they come in, and now you just have somebody there to make sure that they don’t get in the way of their own rights being protected.”
“It allows for defendants who might not know the process to have someone that protects their rights, and you can’t look at that as being a bad thing,” he added.
The District Attorney’s Office did not receive similar funding. Therefore, Wayne County District Attorney Rick Healy said that they will not be providing an assistant D.A. for arraignments that happen outside of regular court hours.
“All across Upstate New York, the district attorneys, and the public defenders are not adequately funded to provide attorneys 24 hours a day at arraignments, so it’s difficult,” Healy said. “In a perfect world, defendants should have lawyers at arraignments, but again, it boils down to funding.”
Healy sent a letter to the justices in Palmyra and Newark, asking them to issue a temporary order of protection for crimes that involve an alleged victim and to communicate with the D.A.’s office through the arresting officers regarding bail for felony arrests.
Kernan said that they are still learning how the new policy will play out, and they currently don’t have any statistics available.
“It’s just very early on. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m pleased that this was started,” he said. “A person should not be arraigned on a criminal matter without having the right to a counsel appearing with them.”
In Ontario County they solved the late night defendant/arraignment problem by holding defendants in jail for pre-arraignment hearings. Defendants are then arraigned in court the next morning.
This allows judges to avoid being called out at all hours and allows a public defender to be present for arraignments.