EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 9, 2014

N.H. video arraignments becoming more common

County saves money, reduces security risk

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

---- — A record number — 1,725 — of arraignments and hearings were conducted over video last year in Rockingham County.

That’s saving time and money, officials said yesterday.

“We started out with one court and now we are doing it at seven courts,” said David Consentino, assistant superintendent of the county jail. “It’s a great technology.”

That number was up from 1,621 in 2012 and 1,312 in 2011, Sgt. Harold Whitehouse said.

That’s a significant increase from only 803 video proceedings in 2009, when Whitehouse took over as the county jail’s video room coordinator.

There are approximately 4,000 arraignments and hearings — many on family court issues — held in the county each year, he said.

Video proceedings expedite court cases and save the county thousands of dollars a year, especially in inmate transportation costs, according to jail officials and prosecutors.

But the biggest advantage is not having to transport a potentially dangerous inmate between the jail and a court a half hour away, Rockingham County Sheriff Michael Downing said.

“Any time you don’t have to transport somebody, your risk goes down,” Downing said.

Whitehouse is responsible for arranging video court proceedings with judges and prosecutors at the county’s seven circuit courts. That includes courts in Salem, Plaistow and Derry.

Stacey Burgoyne, 23, appeared before Judge Robert Stephen yesterday morning in 10th Circuit Court in Derry. She was arrested on a simple assault charge Tuesday and held overnight at the Rockingham County jail until her arraignment.

When Stephen announced her bail would remain at $1,000 cash, Burgoyne wasn’t in the Derry courtroom. She was still in jail in Brentwood, where a video link allowed Burgoyne, Stephen and prosecutor Marcia Rosen to communicate without being in the same room.

Burgoyne’s arraignment may not have occurred yesterday if it had not been done by video because she wasn’t feeling well, Whitehouse said.

A typical courtroom arraignment may have been delayed if she were too sick to be transferred, he said. But the arraignment was held as planned without disrupting the court’s busy schedule.

Waiting for an inmate to be transferred to court can delay that case and others, wasting time and money. Sheriff’s deputies also don’t have wait around for a case to be completed so they can transport the inmate back to jail.

Video proceedings lauded

Edwin Kelly, administrative judge for the state’s circuit court system, praised the video hearing system, which began a decade ago and is used in most courts throughout the state. Plans are in the works to begin video proceedings at Rockingham Superior Court.

“We think it’s been pleasantly successful from our perspective,” Kelly said. “The safety consideration is large as far as we can tell.”

Prosecutors, including Salem police prosecutor Jason Grosky and Londonderry police prosecutor Kevin Coyle, are pleased as well.

“It is an absolutely fantastic system,” Grosky said. “I bet it saves tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.”

Coyle agreed.

“It’s a fantastic use of technology and I would like to see it used more,” he said. “It’s been a great thing for the court system.”

Last year, courts in Derry and Salem used video conferencing the most, in 521 and 372 cases, respectively.

The fewest were the 74 heard in Plaistow. Rockingham County also has circuit courts in Candia, Brentwood, Seabrook and Portsmouth.

Kelly and jail officials said it’s difficult to estimate the cost savings, but they believe it is significant.

On days when a judge is not presiding in some courts, those cases are heard via video by a judge in another court. For instance, Grosky said he could be speaking from Salem to a judge in Derry without having to travel back and forth.

“I can now spend that time doing other things,” he said.

Family court cases heard in Rockingham County can involve a person incarcerated in northern New Hampshire, Grosky said

But some defense attorneys, including Mark Stevens of Salem, say video arraignments can compromise the justice system.

“There is no advantage to the defendant,” he said. “It’s surely more convenient for the state and those who transport. The cost of transportation shouldn’t be a factor. You are talking about someone’s liberty at stake.”

People can be arraigned from the jail without having an attorney at their side, offering proper advice, sometimes causing them to make poor decisions, Stevens said.

“They usually don’t know how to make a bail argument,” he said. “It can be scary for them sitting there and speaking to a video camera.”