Defendants ready for their closeup?

Videoconferencing introduced for superior court bail reviews.

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Criminal defendants who want to contest their district court bail will no longer have to be brought by ferry to Woods Hole and then make a 32-mile, 52-minute ride to Barnstable County Superior Court for a hearing before a judge that’s likely to last less than 10 minutes.

“It’s an excellent use of technology that protects an individual defendant’s rights to an immediate bail review,” Barnstable Superior Court Judge Robert Rufo told The Times. “It’s fast. It’s efficient.”

Rufo, who is presiding over superior court in Edgartown this month and is the regional administrative judge for Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket counties, introduced videoconferencing as a means to do bail reviews in Barnstable County. When he made a trip to the Vineyard shortly after Dukes County Clerk T. George Davis took over in January, he suggested videoconferencing for Island bail reviews to Davis and Sheriff Robert Ogden.

“If there’s no superior court judge in Edgartown, which there rarely is, we have to send the petitioner over to Barnstable for a hearing,” Davis said. “It’s expensive and inefficient.”

The video equipment cost about $6,500, which the sheriff’s department paid for, Ogden said.

“That’s a drop in the bucket compared to what it costs to transport off-Island,” Ogden said.

A trip for a bail review hearing includes the ferry charge, two corrections officers who have to travel with the prisoner, and coverage back at the jail. “We estimated that the new system will pay for itself after only eight or nine trips we no longer have to provide,” Ogden said. Each trip is estimated at $750-$800.

What often takes eight hours off-Island because of travel and waiting time is reduced to a 10 to 15 minutes in the safety of the jail, Davis said.

Rufo estimated there are five to seven bail reviews per month from the Island, sometimes more in the summer. “They can come in spurts,” he said. A 2017 Supreme Judicial Court ruling known as Brangan v. Commonwealth made bail reviews more common, Rufo said. In that ruling, the state’s highest court found that a judge “must consider the defendant’s financial resources but is not required to set bail in an amount the defendant can afford if other relevant considerations weigh more heavily than the defendant’s ability to prove the necessary security for his appearance at trial.”

Rufo pointed out that bail is set to ensure a defendant’s appearance in court and is not to be punitive.

“Quite often a defendant is objecting because he can’t post the bail he got, which means the defendant would have to sit in jail until he resolves the case,” Davis said.

With the videoconferencing for bail reviews, the defendant is allowed to communicate with his attorney without having the interaction recorded. The equipment is set up in a safe and secure room within the jail, and any private conferring can be muted.

Davis, Ogden, and Rufo all touched on the security implications. Instead of someone leaving the jail, they stay within the secure facility, Ogden said. No road trip and no ancient lockup in the Barnstable Superior Court, where there are too many opportunities for things to go wrong.

“I was gratified that within 60 days of my approaching newly elected clerk George Davis and sheriff Bob Ogden… they put it together in record time,” Rufo said. “They saw the savings to taxpayers and the benefits to security.”

3 COMMENTS

  1. This whole ‘self congratulatory’ article with Sheriffs and court officials standing with broad smiles, as though they have accomplished something earth shattering beyond the the mere cost savings of transporting an accused to Barnstable, is very ill thought out.
    This new video conferencing of the ‘pixilated prisoner’ puts Vineyard prisoners an a distinct and unconstitutional disadvantage to Barnstable prisoners, who are afforded personal appearances in bail reviews. While this may not be an evidentiary hearing bringing with it the due process “right to confront”, it sets a terrible precedent of sacrificing a prisoners due process rights rather than transport them to Superior Court. I don’t think it’s going to survive a challenge, but smile on, you just saved a few hundred dollars at the expense of someone who is still innocent until proven guilty.
    The Barnstable district attorney will be standing next to the judge, in person, while the Vineyard prisoner is pixilated, while under incarceration, bringing with that all the inferences of guilt.
    This is clearly unequal treatment under the law.
    Maybe all those broad smiles ought to be reconsidered in light of what they just achieved.

    • A hunch here. James Kozak is arguing for a justice system in which the defendant, on charges that would not offend a Mother Superior, is first told they must wait in a cell overnight because the judge doesn’t start sessions until 8 AM, then the following morning told the judge is away on a fishing weekend with the district attorney.

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