The right to a fair and speedy trial is essential now more than ever. The number of cases that have accumulated since the start of the pandemic is nearly unfathomable. In February, New York City alone had 49,000 pending criminal court cases; and as of April, Florida had a backlog of one million cases.
Courts are wading through a sea of backlogged cases with the help of E-courts, but with numbers like these, courts must gain efficiencies wherever possible. To this end, eLearning platforms and cloud-based subpoena management systems can help right the ship. eLearning platforms can keep minor offenses out of courts, and digital subpoena management systems can improve efficiencies and help reallocate limited resources. These software programs will keep new cases off the pile of pending cases and free up courts to deal with the backlog.
According to Josh Hartlage, president of Adventfs, in late March it became apparent that the U.S legal system had to make changes to deal with court closures across the country. As the cases began to stack up, many courts turned to eLearning to divert minor offenses. Hartlage says that “by the beginning of 2021, it was clear that the justice system had made a quantum leap in the adoption of technology and that things may never be the same.”
Almost overnight, agencies were required to implement or expand upon diversionary programs. Hartlage notes that “for some, this meant they needed to get over the technology learning curve quickly to place as many defendants into diversionary programs as possible.” Law enforcement agencies began to substitute custodial arrests with citations, summons, and other PAD (pre-arrest diversion programs) to deal with court closures.
Pre-arrest diversion programs allow police to issue citations to juvenile and adult offenders for certain non-violent and misdemeanor crimes. A civil citation is administered in place of an arrest or notice to appear, thus keeping minor offenders out of detention centers, pretrial meetings, and courtrooms.
Community corrections followed suit and replaced some revocations with sanctions. Revocation is the return of a community participant to a correctional facility for violating the terms of their release. Most agencies have converted to telephonic-only or have significantly reduced case meetings. As a result, non-incarceration sanctions have become a valuable tool to keep revocations down. “These innovative approaches, especially when combined and facilitated through electronic filings, are creating a simple yet effective strategy for maintaining public safety and order despite the challenges of physical court closures,” adds Hartlage.
Advent's eLearning platform allows law enforcement agencies to manage citations, assign track interventions, and support disposition decision making. Prosecutors can create and manage diversion agreements, assign track interventions, and create and manage documents for electronic dismissal filings. Community corrections caseworkers can assign court-ordered interventions, sanction programming, track and manage their case completion, and access online completion certificates and audits for case management documentation. All agencies can manage program fees and billing through Advent’s eLearning platform.
Agencies can implement online treatment programs with an offender-paid model or an agency-paid model. There are no licenses or other fees to use the platform, and most agencies can be up and running within a day.
Advent offers over 20 online treatment programs, each developed by Ph.D. level experts and backed by the latest Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment (CBT) protocols. The programs include treatment for substance abuse, anger management, parenting and family issues, theft, traffic safety, and more.
Courts made the leap to eLearning during the pandemic, but as the pandemic begins to subside in the U.S. many courts are sticking with them. Hartlage says that “we are seeing them embrace the technology. We’re seeing them expand into the use of additional eLearning programs to address a wider variety of offenses resulting in diversions.”
Jackie Belasky, Orion Communications sales and marketing principal, mentions that courts are increasingly moving towards a paperless environment. She states that entire cases, including all the data, documents, transcripts of hearings, evidence, and legal reference information, are becoming digital. Subpoena management systems, like Orion’s CourtNotify, are also going digital.
Manual and paper processes are labor-intensive and costly. Electronic subpoena management systems can improve efficiencies and cut costs for both courts and law enforcement. CourtNotify digitally automates the process of subpoena issuance and receipt for officer and civilian witnesses.
It can be used as a stand-alone law enforcement system or integrated into judicial case management systems linking courts, prosecutors, public defenders, officers, and civilian witnesses. Leslie DeLatte, president of Orion Communications, says that “cloud-based subpoena management systems are closing notification gaps for all criminal justice practitioners – the courts, prosecutors, public defenders, and law enforcement.”
CourtNotify can enter and track two-way communications directly with officers throughout each case, increasing information sharing between court administrators. It offers a centralized solution and allows officer schedules to be viewed in real-time, minimizing schedule conflicts. Date and time stamp acknowledgments of notification receipts improve witness accountability (including officers). Clerks can add witnesses and send subpoena notifications to officers or civilian service deputies. All delivery results can be viewed online in real-time by court clerks, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and law enforcement.
The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office implemented Orion’s CourtNotify eliminating the need for deputy deliveries to police stations, hand deliveries, and reduced delivery time and costs for service to incarcerated individuals. Dr. Heidi Unter, of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, mentions that “timely accurate and shared information is critical to the operations of every criminal justice agency. Post Katrina workforce shortages made labor-saving efficiencies like CourtNotify, even more important.” If CourtNotify can help the overburdened New Orleans Justice System post-Katrina, it can do the same for courts drowning in case backlogs post-pandemic.
Courts are entering the post-pandemic period overburdened. eLearning and other diversionary programs can help keep minor offenses and violations out of courts, allowing them to catch up. Subpoena management systems can help unburden courts by automating them, reallocating their limited resources with greater efficiency and accountability. After the dust settles and courts have caught up, the positive contributions of eLearning and cloud-based subpoena management won’t go unnoticed. They will be here to stay.
By MJ Guercio for courtstoday.com