By Ben Lawson
For people charged with a crime in Sevier County, the first step to navigating the judicial system is appearing for their arraignment, a process that is meant to provide the necessary information for their day in court. To navigate the rules and regulations of court is the task of Chief Magistrate Albert Snyder.
Though normally held in the General Sessions Courtroom at the Sevier County Court House, Monday’s arraignments were moved to the larger third floor meeting room to accommodate the many defendants along with friends and family. The size and length of the proceedings is standard practice for Snyder.
“It can take 20 minutes or two and half hours depending on how many we have,” he said.
At the session’s start, Snyder goes over basic information that applies to all present. Much of it surrounds the defendant’s eligibility to receive a public defender, which requires a breakdown of their employment history, their finances and expenditures, to determine if they can afford a private attorney. If appointed, a public defender has a cost of $50.
Many choose not to consult with an attorney. The General Sessions Court handles misdemeanors, which includes anything from traffic violations to theft and assault. Low class misdemeanors can lead to sentences of 30 days in jail, with upper level charges reaching up to 11 months.
As each individual faces Snyder, he explains their charges and sets a court date for them: failure to attend will result in an arrest warrant being issued. Due to the crowded nature of the legal system, court dates were set for December.
Snyder’s job is not to offer legal advice; that’s up to an attorney. But he explains their legal situation. For those charged with driving on a suspended license, he warns them to get licensed before their court date.
Magistrates hold a unique position at the forefront of the justice system by reviewing a case before it’s ever brought to the courtroom and overseeing a defendant’s proceedings long before they ever step before a judge.
Crossing the First Judicial Bridge
By Ben Lawson