By Scott Unger • Of the News-Register • 

Camping violators put strain on Mac municipal court

Since the beginning of the year, 17 people arrested for McMinnville municipal offenses have been released from Yamhill County Jail before being arraigned, a trend the court is hoping to change.

Municipal Court Supervisor Jason Carbajal spoke to the city council at a recent work session about issues with staff capacity and jail access that lead to an inability to arraign inmates within 36 hours of being arrested — the maximum holding time without seeing a judge by Oregon state law.

Carbajal said the court will soon ask for additional days in session to handle skyrocketing citations for crimes such as prohibited camping.

The court currently holds four sessions per month on Wednesdays, two for traffic violations and two for criminal misdemeanors, Carbajal said. That’s not enough to handle the uptick in homelessness-related cases, as citations for prohibited camping went from 45 in 2022 to 151 in 2023, a 235% increase.

“We do not have capacity to handle all cases with two days,” Carbajal told council members. “I will be asking city council for a couple more court days to take care of some traffic stuff so we can focus on criminal misdemeanor cases for the City of McMinnville.”

The frequency of citations for certain individuals complicates court procedures. For prohibited camping, first time violators are given the option of dismissal by agreeing to a mental health or substance abuse evaluation. The second offense can be reduced, but not dismissed, and the third offense can result in one year of bench probation, a fine and/or a day in jail, Carbajal said.

“To be quite honest, the third (violation) might be the first time that we see that person, because they’ve been given three within the time that they come to court,” Carbajal said. “These are people who are repeat offenders.

“I’m very familiar with a lot of these folks because of just the amount of time that we see them.”

Oregon law requires arraignments to be held within 36 hours of being arrested. If the court doesn’t meet that deadline, the individual is released. Limited staffing and access to the jail is creating a “hamster wheel” for the court, Carbajal said.

When someone doesn’t show up for court, Judge Arnold Poole will sign a failure to appear warrant, which is processed by staff and sent to McMinnville Police. If the person is arrested but can’t be seen by the court within the 36 hours, they are released and the process begins again, Carbajal said.

“It eventually will end up at the jail with me not being able to see that person, which allows that person to get released after 36 hours, which starts the ball and the cycle rolling all over again,” Carbajal said. “So we’re in the same cycle kind of running on this hamster wheel.”

The court has access to the jail Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 3 p.m. While Judge Poole and Prosecutor Shannon Erskine make the trip on Wednesdays, other arraignments are done electronically with Carbajal at the jail and Poole at court.

“A big hurdle is the logistics of us trying to make a new arrangement with the county and getting in there more often,” Carbajal said.

The current schedule was established by Poole and retired Captain Dave Lux and isn’t being fully used by the court, Sheriff Sam Elliott told the News-Register.

“The preset days/times are still available, but we have not seen them being utilized. The Monday and Friday dates/times specifically allow for adults in custody to be seen before the 36-hour deadline, and the Wednesday date fills the gap between them,” Elliott said. “Since Jan. 1, 2024 ... we have released 17 adults in custody because they were not arraigned within 36 hours of booking by anyone from Municipal Court. If these individuals are held beyond the time that they can lawfully be held, the liability and subsequent penalty falls to me and my office, not Municipal Court.”

The preset times coincide with circuit court arraignments and are needed because the jail is very busy with transports, bookings, attorney visits, court and medical appointments, recreation time, meal service and other activities, Elliott said.

“The 3 p.m. time is after arraignments are complete in circuit court each day, and every one of these activities require staff to move adults in custody to the courthouse or other offices within the facility or visiting booths,” he said. “Having fixed preset days/times allows us to plan for the municipal court staff to be in the facility, and we can plan other necessary tasks at other times.”

Carbajal repeatedly said the county and jail are partners with the court and presented the arraignment issues as part of the bigger problem of too many cases for current court capacity.

“We’re not trying to say that the court has hurdles because of these things, but they are definitely things that we need to work out to be able to get some more success rates on some of these cases,” he said.

The jail isn’t responsible for transporting inmates to court hearings and houses municipal hearings as a courtesy to the city, Elliott said. Other jurisdictions pick up and drop off inmates around court dates.

“McMinnville Municipal Court has not been coming to the jail to pick up their custodies for court hearings for some time,” Elliott said.

During the pandemic, Polycom video conferencing allowed for remote arraignments, but that is no longer an option, Carbajal said.

“That has been taken away from us, the county, they don’t have staffing to be able to turn that machine on for us,” he told council.

The jail has two Polycom systems available, which were used beyond capacity during the pandemic, according to Elliott. Using the Polycom is a strain on staff because a deputy needs to escort and stay with an inmate throughout the virtual court appearance.

Similar to the access issues, use of the Polycom is complicated by requests from both the circuit and municipal courts to use the technology, Elliott said.

“We again run into the issue of having two courts wanting to see adults in custody at the same time,” Elliott said. “Which based on the layout of the jail itself and the ability of staff to move adults in custody to and from video conference booths — when we could have new intakes (and) arrests in the booking area, behavioral health or medical staff needing to see clients, attorneys visiting clients, and any number of unplanned or unforeseen situations going on at the same time — is just not a reasonable expectation.”

The sheriff’s office is currently working on a request to vendors to enhance “adult in custody communication capability,” which will include portable tablets that may assist with court appearances, Elliott said.

The court has also enlisted the help of Provoking Hope and the Yamhill Community Action Partnership to help clients connect to services and will look to focus on adding community court aspects as part of its expansion request, according to Carbajal.

“We’re trying to find other creative ways of sentencing and things to do,” he said.


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