Speedy Justice in Bay County

By: Adam Kramer
By: Adam Kramer

The Sixth Amendment entitles everyone to a quick and public trial.

Bay County is hoping to abide by the Constitution at lightning speed. Starting this week Bay County courts are allowing most people facing misdemeanor and third degree felony charges to skip trial and enter a plea during their first court appearance.

A suspect's first court appearance is usually held to set a bond, but beginning this week that bond hearing can turn into a quickie trial and sentencing session.

Accused criminals can spend as much as 30 days in jail in between their first appearance and the first time they'll appear in front of a judge to enter a plea. This leaves the courts with dozens of open cases, so now Bay County courts are allowing the accused to enter pleas during their first appearance.

"It'll reduce our dockets and later court appearances, which will save the judges some time, but it's also going to save the attorneys time they have to come to arraignment and they've got 25 or 50 less cases than they would have and they can spend more time on they cases they do have," said Bay County Judge Thomas Welch.

It'll also free up some of cells at the overcrowded Bay County Jail, which currently has 300 more inmates than it does available beds.

"Let them through their experience here at the jail in a more timely fashion because everyday they're here it’s costing us $45.79, so if the judge only has to handle them once and we only have to handle them once, then it's going to cut down on the four or five days that come for their first arraignment," said Dr. Roger Hagen, Correctional Program Manager.

The streamlining of the courts won't apply to defendants accused of serious crimes such as murder, or criminals with a long record.

"The idea is to resolve only the small and less serious, non-complicated cases," said Judge Welch.

During Wednesday’s first appearances, nine of the 27 defendants reached a plea agreements.


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