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Board OKs Funds for Video Arraignments

September 24, 1997|RICHARD WARCHOL

Defendants in Ventura County will soon be able to appear for their arraignment hearings without stepping into court.

County supervisors on Tuesday approved a $261,000 contract with a Thousand Oaks firm that will for the first time allow the county to arraign inmates by video camera from a special teleconferencing room in the jails.

Video arraignments are being used increasingly across the country as officials attempt to eliminate security risks while saving time and money.

The video equipment was designed by Court Visions of Thousand Oaks, a company selected after a yearlong study of video arraignment technology by a panel of judges, attorneys and sheriff's officials.

Inmates will still have the choice of being arraigned by video or in the courtroom.

But officials say that research they conducted in other counties shows the vast majority will chose video arraignment. An arraignment is a hearing during which charges are formally read to the accused person, who can then offer a plea.

Inmates and their public defenders or private attorneys will use special holding rooms with cameras and split-screen television monitors in the Todd Road Jail near Santa Paula, Ojai's honor farm branch jail and the main jail at the County Government Center in Ventura.

They will be linked to a judge sitting in county courtroom No. 13 and prosecutors in the district attorney's office.

Court officials say the equipment also will be used for video conferences between law enforcement agencies, with security features that will prevent hackers from viewing confidential transmissions.

Margie Borjon Miller, deputy executive officer of the Ventura County courts, said video arraignments for inmates being held on misdemeanor charges will begin in mid- to late November. Arraignments for felony inmates are scheduled to begin in January.

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