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Video Takes Over from Judges In Advising Defendants of Their Rights

April 2, 1986

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) _ A videotape that advises defendants of their rights has gotten poor ratings from most Yakima County judges, who are used to giving the lectures in person.

The 35-minute videotape, played daily in a jail courtroom, advises prisoners facing arraignment of their rights and explains court procedures. But the tape has not easily made the transition into regular Yakima County courtrooms.

″It’s radical for Washington, but way behind what other states are doing in the area of television in the courtroom,″ said Judge Heather Van Nuys, the ″star″ of the tape and the only one of four Yakima County District Court judges who regularly uses the video in her courtroom.

Traditionally, a judge or court commissioner begins an arraignment with a lecture to all defendants, advising them of their rights and of the court’s procedures, Ms. Van Nuys said.

The speeches vary in content, depending on the judge, she said, and there is always the possibility that important information could be omitted.

″We’ve tried to use simple scenes depicting what a person can expect at arraignment. In the space of about 15 minutes, they hear their rights explained, in different ways, three times,″ she said.

But she said that although the tapes have been available for nearly a year, her colleagues have not made use of them.

″I think the judge should be there″ when a defendant’s rights are being read, said senior District Judge George Mullins, who refuses to use the video in his courtroom.

″Besides, it’s too long. My advice of rights lasts 10, maybe 15 minutes, if I put in everything, including the kitchen sink.

″The video takes 35 minutes and they have to listen to it both in English and Spanish,″ he said. When judges issue instructions in person, Spanish- speaking defendants get a separate lecture from an interpreter, Ms. Van Nuys explained.

Mullins also said he thinks the video is ″discourteous″ to defendants who want to be instructed by a ″live″ judge.

But that criticism doesn’t daunt Ms. Van Nuys, who at 31 is one of the state’s youngest district judges.

″The legal system has always been slow to adapt to new ideas,″ she said. ″I think people are going to be surprised to walk into a centuries-old court system and see television.″

Attorney Dirk Marler, who administers the court’s public defender program, said the tape’s length and bilingualism can cause some defendants to lose interest, but in general, it serves its purpose well.

″It’s a good innovation,″ he said. ″I think it saves the court time. The judge and attorneys can be doing more productive things″ while the tape is being played.

But Mullins is not convinced that the tape saves much time. ″What ... are you going to do? Have another cup of coffee?″

Closed-circuit television has been used for years in courtrooms across the country, especially for criminal defendants who are unruly or who refuse to leave their cells.

However, Keith Goehring of the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va., said using videotapes to advise defendants of their rights is quite rare.

The Yakima project, funded through a state grant, cost about $3,000 for videotape recorders, television monitors and production, said court administrator Frank Glaspey.

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