By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY —
Mercer County Common Pleas Court is imposing a new rule on arraignments at the common pleas level that the district attorney and public defender believe will help criminal cases move more quickly through the court system.
Although Local Rule of Court L-571 does not take effect until June 30, the district attorney’s office already has started implementing it, said District Attorney Robert G. Kochems.
The rule signed by President Judge Thomas R. Dobson requires that a criminal defendant be arraigned in common pleas court on the eighth week after his or her preliminary hearing, or at the next arraignment court if one is not scheduled that week.
The rule does not change the arraignments defendants undergo at the district judge level.
An arraignment at the common pleas court level usually is a defendant’s first appearance before a common pleas court judge. The defendant is notified of the charges against him or her, the prosecution hands over the evidence that has been collected in the investigation so far and the clock on the filing of certain motions begins.
Another change brought on by the rule is that defendants will be notified of the day of their common pleas court arraignments at their preliminary hearings instead of being sent a letter in the mail.
Typically, it has taken four months for a defendant to be arraigned at the common pleas court level, Kochems said.
“It’s going to save us quite a bit of paperwork and it’s going to speed these cases up,” Kochems said.
The county will save the cost of mailing arraignment notices, and defendants will not be able to claim that they did not receive the notice, Kochems said.
“There are a lot of benefits to the rule,” he said.
Public Defender Raymond H. Bogaty said the rule will prompt attorneys to work out deals to resolve cases more quickly.
“It gets rid of a lot of the smaller, less serious cases,” Bogaty said, allowing more consideration of the serious ones.
District judges will be able to order defendants to undergo drug and alcohol abuse treatment as part of their bond conditions, instead of waiting for someone to be sentenced.
The more quickly someone with substance abuse problems gets treatment, the more likely the treatment will be effective, and the less likely the person will be charged with additional crimes, Bogaty said.
“They always say that justice delayed is justice denied and that’s true for the defendants as well as the victims,” Bogaty said. “Let’s get it over with.”
Similar rules in other counties have had positive affects, he said.
“It is an exceptionally good thing,” Bogaty said.
Traditionally, an arraignment at the common pleas level also certifies that a case is ready for trial.
“The certification is weakened by this rule because we can’t contact every witness in two months,” Kochems said.
There will be a large backup in arraignments for a couple of months while the rule is implemented.
Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Chief Riley Smoot Jr. told the police commission about the rule recently and predicted good and bad things will come from it as far as how the department operates because cases will move more quickly.
“It will affect us,” he said.