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MAHONING COUNTY Courts to begin using video arraignment soon



Published: Fri, May 25, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The system will allow some suspects to be arraigned without leaving the jail.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Courtrooms in Mahoning County should soon be wired for sound and picture, allowing certain jail inmates to be arraigned front of a TV camera instead of a judge's bench.

Equipment has been bought to set up video arraignment systems in the common pleas courts located in the county courthouse, and in the four area courts in Austintown, Boardman, Canfield and Sebring.

For video arraignment, inmates are taken to a small courtroom in the county jail, where they sit in front of a television camera linked to a video monitor in the courtrooms.

The judge is also on camera and is visible to the inmate on a monitor in the jail. The procedure is already being used in Youngstown Municipal Court, said Robert Rupeka, common pleas court administrator.Supporters: County Commissioner David Ludt is a proponent of the system and says it will be a huge cost-saver by eliminating the need for deputy sheriffs to transport prisoners to and from court.

Judges have said video arraignment will also be a security boost. If violent inmates are involved, they can be arraigned from the jail instead of being taken to court.

Ludt said installation could begin in about a week, barring any complications or delays. Rupeka said one of the area courts will be selected as a pilot project for the area court system.

Officials are still working out logistical factors like how to ensure a lawyer is on hand to provide legal counsel for the defendants and whether the lawyers will be in the jail or the court. "Then once we have the blueprint we'll expand it to the other courts," he said.

Structure: The system that will be used in the area courts will be hooked up traditionally with wires and cables. The common pleas system will be wireless, eliminating the need for electrical wires and conduits to be run through the courthouse.

Judges insisted on the wireless system to protect the courthouse's beauty and historical integrity. Antennae to pick up and transmit the wireless signals will be placed in discreet places around the building.

The video equipment will be kept on carts that can be rolled from courtroom to courtroom as needed. When not in use, they will be kept out of sight.

bjackson@vindy.com




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