Asset forfeiture funds used for new video system in circuit court

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Members of the Botetourt County Bar got a look at the new video hookup that’s now available in the circuit courtroom in the county courthouse.

The $30,000 system will allow attorneys to show video evidence during criminal and civil trials, and, when a camera is installed, it will allow the judge to hold arraignments without having to transport prisoners from other localities where they may be held in jail.

“Cameras are everywhere now,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Joel Branscom explained. Being able show those videos more easily in the courtroom will help juries, the judge and others involved in a case.

Until the three new TV screens were installed last week, attorneys had to roll in a television for video evidence. Now, attorneys will be able to plug into a small console on each of the attorneys’ tables in the courtroom from a computer or other device and show the evidence on a large screen that hangs from the second-floor gallery that the jury and judge can see and from screens in each corner of the courtroom that the attorneys and gallery can see.

Branscom believes the new system will be more and more useful, too, as cameras become more prevalent. “Soon, they’ll be on officers’ chests. There are already cell phones,” he said.

The funding for the new system comes primarily from asset forfeiture funds— in this instance, $18,000 total. Branscom said $12,000 of that is from the 2013 Abbott Laboratories settlement with the federal government that his office received. Another $12,000 came from the Sheriff’s Office because the new video arrangement could eventually save that office money.

Branscom said when the Sheriff’s Office has to drive to pick up and return a prisoner in a jail outside of the county for a five-minute arraignment here, it can be a significant expense. Having the video capability for the judge and officers to use could drastically cut that expense.

Branscom was involved with helping get some of the $33 million in Abbott Lab’s settlement that came to Virginia for training for Commonwealth’s Attorneys.

That’s paying off this week.

For the first time, Commonwealth’s Attorneys from around the state are taking training through the Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ Services Council without having to come up with the funds from local taxes or other ways.

Branscom said it cost about $750,000 to do the three days of training for what was expected to be 80 percent of the Commonwealth’s Attorney offices that would be at the training.

That training covers current developments in the criminal law, new laws, ethics and judicial decisions.

That money is coming from investments the state made in the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) from the asset forfeiture.

Branscom said Commonwealth’s Attorneys in Virginia—including himself’— worked with the U.S. Treasury Department that handled the Abbott settlement and the General Assembly to set up the investment fund for Commonwealth’s Attorney training.

— Ed McCoy

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