Maine courts have set limits on the number of defendants who can be arraigned in each state court on any given day due to COVID-19 concerns.

Acting Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Andrew Mead issued a revised pandemic management order on Jan. 12 that said: “In light of public health concerns arising from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and the need for the courts to limit courtroom capacity to ensure proper social distancing, all criminal complaints and/or summonses must be filed with the clerk’s office at least 14 days before the scheduled arraignment date.”

If a complaint or summons is filed later than 14 days before the arraignment date, Mead wrote, “the Clerk’s Office will reject the filing and the prosecutor or law enforcement officer attempting to file the complaint or summons will be required to have the person re-summonsed for a new arraignment date.”

The judicial directive places a new burden on law enforcement officers to track court dates on the summonses they issue.

“Each law enforcement agency will be assigned specific arraignment dates and allotted a set number of defendants who can be summonsed for each arraignment date,” Mead wrote. “Once that number is reached, the law enforcement agency will be required to use the next available date on its arraignment dates schedule.”

Law enforcement agencies say they are adapting to the mandate.

Auburn Police Chief Jason Moen said the order poses a “little bit of a challenge” in scheduling court dates. “But it is not insurmountable,” he said.

“Our court officer does a great job of tracking everything and has devised a system that allows us to maximize the arraignment scheduling,” Moen said.

“Given everything happening with the pandemic and the large backlog currently existing in the court system, we all have to do our part in making sure the wheels of justice keep turning, albeit slowly, but they are still turning,” he said.

“This certainly causes more work for police agencies as we now have to track how many court summonses (criminal cases not involving a physical arrest) for a particular arraignment date are issued by officers,” Lewiston Police Department spokesman Lt. David St. Pierre said.

“This presents certain challenges for officers, our court officer and the department as a whole as we must now be sure we do not issue more than the acceptable number of summonses for each time slot,” he said. “We must also take into consideration those defendants that were physically arrested and need to appear as well as those defendants who were arrested, bailed from jail, and given a court date by a bail commissioner or court clerk.”

Sheriff’s offices in Androscoggin and Oxford counties are still working on putting the new scheduling system in place.

In Androscoggin County, Sheriff Eric Samson said his staff “are finalizing how the process will work … Obviously, this will likely have some consequences, but it’s too early to fully predict how this will affect us.”

Oxford County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy James Urquhart echoed Samson’s sentiment, saying time will tell what effect the new scheduling system will have on the criminal justice process.

“We are currently working on a tracking system with our communications center to track the summonses officers are issuing out during their shifts and incidents they respond to,” he said. “That being said, we also have mandated time constraints placed on us by the various court venues and district attorney’s offices to have cases submitted weeks in advance of any initial court appearance.”

Interim Farmington Police Chief Shane P. Cote said: “This directive from the court will absolutely affect our workload. Farmington (Police Department) is only allotted nine walk-in arraignment slots each month, which totals 108 for the year. Our plan is to track the number of summonses issued for each arraignment date and when we reach nine, we will start using the next arraignment date.”

Franklin County Sheriff Scott R. Nichols Sr. said he understands the reasoning behind the restrictions.

“We remain cognizant regarding number restrictions and will do our best to adhere to the protocols,” he said.

Auburn defense attorney Paul Corey said he could see advantages in the new system even beyond COVID-19 concerns.

“I can say from recent experience that limiting the number of defendants on the arraignment lists is good for those on the lists because it allows them to meet with the lawyer of the day without standing in line,” he said. “The new system feels like much less of a cattle drive and might encourage defendants to take a minute to talk to the (lawyer of the day) rather than unwisely pleading out just to get out of the crowded courtroom.”


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