CANTON St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain has instituted a policy that could change the landscape of courtrooms across the county.
Ms. Rain recently authorized all police agencies in the county to have their officers prosecute vehicle and traffic violations.
Its something that is a program that is established across the state. It was in effect when I was a patrolwoman 30 years ago when I started and I liked it, Ms. Rain said. It is something that many of the patrolmen like. It allows officers to establish beyond reasonable doubt and understand it better when they are dealing with more serious cases.
Ms. Rain said the new policy is not something that police officers are required to use, but the option will be there for them.
It is not a you must. It is a you may, she said.
Police officers will be allowed to prosecute only violations for which they issued the ticket. A court-ordered appointment as a special prosecutor will not be required.
Massena Village Police Chief Timmy J. Currier said Ms. Rain had discussed her plan with him before taking office.
This is not a new concept. We had been gearing up to do this under the previous administration (former District Attorney Nicole M. Duve), which included the training of our staff, Mr. Currier said. It is more important for the prosecutors to be focused on more serious criminal cases. Our staff are more than qualified to prosecute our own tickets.
Mr. Currier said he suspected there initially will be a spike in the number of vehicle and traffic law violations that are contested, but once offenders find police officers are well qualified to prosecute the cases, the numbers will drop to their typical level.
He also said it was unlikely the move would affect his departments budget. The departments contract pays off-duty officers a minimum of two hours of overtime when they are called in for a trial.
If there is a trial, the officer has to be there, he said. Our court overtime cost is under $7,000 a year.
Potsdam Village Police Chief Kevin M. Bates said he is not against the new approach, but some experience is needed ahead of time for members of his department.
Due to the large caseload that the DAs office has, I would not be opposed to officers prosecuting their own traffic violations. Before we start prosecuting, however, because my officers have not prosecuted before, I would like the DAs office to give some training and guidance so they are familiar with the proceedings, Mr. Bates said. Once thats been done, I dont think it would be a big deal.
Ms. Rain said the change will be beneficial to those being prosecuted as well.
Many times people who plead guilty for traffic violations just want to talk to a prosecutor in court. Now they can have any of their experiences heard and their problems can be heard right then and there. Hopefully we can resolve it before they go to trial since they will have access to a prosecutor during the day right out in court, Ms. Rain said. We give the public access to the court whereas they were denied before. I dont think it will have an effect on the budgets.
Potsdam Village Administrator David H. Fenton also said he doesnt think the change will affect the police departments budget dramatically.
Typically the police officer has to be at the trial anyway, and they get a certain amount of overtime. So I dont see it affecting the budget too much, Mr. Fenton said.
I think were going to have to wait and see if it affects our budget. We will see how long it takes to prosecute each trial. As time goes on, the trials will get easier, Mr. Bates said. We will have to do some and see if it affects overtime. At this time its hard for me to tell if theres going to be an effect on our overtime budget.