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Pilot program could save court time, reduce jail overcrowding

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The Kent County Board of Commissioners accepted $33,730 from the State of Michigan last week to fund a pilot program to determine if earlier involvement by court-appointed attorneys will help speed cases through the system, and enhance their services.

Funded by the Michigan Supreme Court State Court Administrative Office (SCAO), the grant funding will be used by the 63rd District Court to increase the use of court appointed attorneys for “indigent” (low income) misdemeanor defendants at their first court appearance or bond hearing. The Court hopes the program will reduce the number of court appearances necessary in misdemeanor cases.

“Currently, the Court provides court appointed counsel to indigent misdemeanor defendants only after the first pre-trial conference,” said Kevin McKay, 63rd District Court Administrator. “The opportunity to meet with a Public Defender before arraignments or bond hearings could help eliminate additional hearings, which would save staff time and taxpayer money.”

Currently, the Court is working with the Kent County Office of the Defender, the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office and the Kent County Office of the Sheriff, with a goal of starting the program by March 1, 2014. Some of the grant funds will be used to have an attorney available for an additional one-half day per week for weekly misdemeanor arraignments at the Court, as well as providing counsel for eligible indigent defendants being arraigned by video on any day of the week.

The pilot funding expires on September 30, 2014, at which time the Court will evaluate the program.

Evaluation will include tracking the time these misdemeanor cases take to move through the system before and after the pilot, and the number of pleas that are completed at first arraignment, as well as the point when defendants first meet with court-appointed counsel.

“We’re appreciative that the SCAO selected 63rd District Court to pilot this program,” McKay added.

“As one of the busiest two-judge district courts in the state, we are always looking for ways to be more efficient.”

If the pilot is successful, the Court will evaluate if the program can be continued within its operating budget and/or identify and apply for additional grant funding.

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