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San Antonio takes over countywide magistration process

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SAN ANTONIO – People arrested in Bexar County limits will experience a different process when they are taken to jail following a new City of San Antonio and Bexar County magistrate agreement.  

On Thursday, the city formally voted on the agreement that the county said will end up saving taxpayers money.

Frederick Garcia, municipal court clerk for the city of San Antonio, said the process is more thorough to ensure those who don’t need to end up in jail are released or get the help they need.

“If you or I were arrested, we want to make sure that in a time filled with high stress, you had someone speaking for you or had the opportunity to speak for you and to advise (you) of your rights,” he said.

Garcia said the magistrate process begins with the arrest. An officer of the law writes a report, which is then viewed by a representative of the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office. The DA then determines if there’s enough evidence for a probable cause charge. The case is then presented to the municipal clerk and a magistrate judge.

“The judges are going to be mindful of the importance of making sure the individuals are advised of their rights,” Garcia said.

That’s why there’s a public defender who’s also able to meet with the arrestee who may advise the judge that there are factors that need to be determined before a bond is set.

“At the very initial stage, we have the public defender’s office present to review the case and advise the court of any other issues this individual may have prior to having a hearing,” Garcia said. “The judge can order the mental health evaluation, get that process sooner and get the individual assessed, divert them away from the jail into some other appropriate facility.”

Stephanie R. Brown, with the Public Defender’s Office, said the ultimate goal is to reduce the jail population. Two and a half days into the execution of new city-county agreement, her data shows it’s working.

“We noticed an increase in the number of mental health cases we’ve been able to produce and have granted,” she said.

Brown said the Public Defender's Office is asking to add more staff in the near future. It is funded through the county. The clerk is also exploring the need for more staff members.

The city-county agreement is on a trial basis until January.


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