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Lights, camera, court
Locke video arraignment
Judge Bill Locke looks at his video monitor to talk to a jail inmate while a larger video screen displays her image to the courtroom. The new system allows inmates to be arraigned while remaining in jail, preventing a trip to the courthouse.

The inmate on the monitor was pleading for his freedom from a video room at Warren County Jail.

The person on the other end of the screen was Judge Bill Locke, sitting on the bench at Warren County Courthouse.

“I need to get out to handle my responsibilities,” the inmate said. “I can’t earn any money if I’m flattening out my sentence sitting here in jail.”
Judge Locke responded, “I guess I could do a backflip, but I don’t know what else I could do for you. You’ve violated your probation three times and flunked out of drug court.”

Locke denied the inmate early release, one of 23 cases he heard that day via video. The new video system is in place primarily for arraignment only, a procedure where the defendant is formally charged and assigned an attorney. Cases of early release can be heard by video too.
If a defendant wants to enter a plea, that must be done in person in court. But the video system is a quick and easy way to handle an often heavy arraignment docket.

“It’s efficient and it eliminates the safety concerns of having to get all those prisoners out of jail and bring them here,” said Locke. “There are transportation costs to bring them here and it also takes officers’ time. I’m pleased with the way this is going. The more we use it, the smoother it runs and it’s really going to be helpful when we use it in Circuit Court.”

Video arraignment has been in use about two months in General Sessions Court. Locke says it should make its way to Circuit Court in the very near future. Depending on docket size, Locke said video arraignment could prevent the transportation of 50 inmates a week in Circuit Court.
In years past, there has been talk of building a courtroom at Warren County Jail to save in the costs of transporting inmates. On rare occasions, inmates have made a break for it during the transportation process, creating safety concerns.

The video arraignment system is viewed as a nice compromise, allowing inmates to stay in jail for arraignment while saving construction costs of a courtroom at the jail.

Since General Sessions Court handles so many misdemeanors, such as cases of public intoxication or disorderly conduct over the weekend, inmates are often ready to make a plea by the time their arraignment arrives Tuesday morning. If they are ready to plea to minor charges, they are transported to the courthouse that afternoon where they are usually released on time served and given probation.