Holding Court on Weekends

In its new-found dedication to finding ways to ease jail overcrowding, the Board of Supervisors has offered a few suggestions, and one, the idea of weekend arraignments, is especially worth further study.

Weekend arraignments, proposed by Supervisor Bruce Nestande, would reduce the jail count, which swells with weekend bookings of prisoners who must wait until Monday to be formally charged before a judge.

The idea of weekend arraignments has been around for years. One reason it has never been implemented may be the reluctance of some judges to work weekends, as Nestande suggests. Another is some confusion over what actions a judge may take on a “non-judicial” day. There are some things a judge can do on weekends, but there is a legal question about whether sentencing a prisoner who enters a guilty plea is one of them.


That should not be a problem. A judge can accept the plea and release the prisoner to return for sentencing during the week, as long as the judge is reasonably sure the prisoner will return to court as ordered.

A weekend arraignment program may not bring about a dramatic reduction in the main jail population, but on crowded weekends it could help keep the maximum down to the court-ordered 1,400 limit. The judges ought to cooperate in giving the program a reasonable trial.

Another approach the county board ought to be pushing--but still isn’t--is the creation of a county detoxification center. Sheriff Brad Gates has finally advised police agencies that they can no longer bring people charged with plain drunkenness to the county jail. The county board should now follow up on that action and join other enlightened counties in creating the sobering-up stations a task force recommended years ago.