"Rule 14.1D permits the presiding judge to forego arraignments," explained Navajo County Superior Court Presiding Judge Dale Nielson.
Over the last few months, the Superior Court has been testing a new procedure, based on an order signed by Judge Nielson, that eliminates arraignments. According to the judge, the new process is designed to streamline the court's caseload, as well as make the defendant's time in court more productive.
During an arraignment, the defendant is advised of the charges against him, and given an opportunity to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
"It was always not guilty," Judge Neilson said. "Now we just enter a not guilty plea for them."
The judge explained that defendants make their first appearance before a local Justice of the Peace, where they are advised of the charges against them and the date of their first hearing in Superior Court, and given the opportunity to request an attorney. He noted that eliminating arraignments from Superior Court has saved approximately three hours of court time each week, as well as saving time for prosecutors, defense attorneys and the sheriff's office. Defendants are also saved the time and expense of traveling to court for an additional appearance.
"We felt that rather than having everyone come for an arraignment, our time would be better spent by having them come for a case management conference," Judge Nielson explained.
In the rare case where a defendant has not appeared before a Justice of the Peace prior to his case landing in Superior Court, an initial appearance is held.
Judge Nielson noted that one reason for moving away from arraignments was to utilize "Fill The Gap" funds, which require courts to process cases quickly. The new process is still being evaluated to determine whether it benefits the court's case flow in the long run, but the judge noted that so far it's going well.
"This process is designed to make court appearances more meaningful," Judge Nielson said. "With case management conferences, we have a better opportunity to do something more meaningful to move the case toward resolution."