eFiling in Criminal Cases

iStock_000004326573MediumThis is Part 7 of 10 in the eFiling Blog Series, check out Part 6 here.

As eFiling has taken root and come of age over the past several years, my sense has been that the majority of deployments start in, and sometimes never go beyond, the  non-criminal case types (civil, family law, probate, juvenile, and so on). Traffic cases may sometimes be an exception; but in those instances, the impetus usually starts on the law enforcement end with eCitations, which are sent to the court. Too often missing are felony and misdemeanor case processing, which continue to operate in largely paper document-centric processes.

While there are no doubt lots of different reasons why eFiling of criminal cases may lag, the temptation is to follow Deep Throat’s admonishment to “Follow the money”.

Earlier in this series, Funding eFiling – Selecting a Strategy discussed the importance – and implications – of the eFiling funding strategy. To recap the “Three Rules That Are Always True”,

  1. eFiling systems are NOT FREE, either to acquire or to operate;
  2. Someone is going to have to pay for it;
  3. Each strategy has important direct and indirect costs, benefits, and implications.

As discussed, one model involves the court paying for the system, making it essentially free to the filers. That model depends on the ability and willingness of the court’s funding authority to provide the up-front, as well as on-going, funding.

Where this model is used, the tremendous leverage in process improvement and efficiency within the court and across the related agencies – prosecutor, law enforcement, corrections – generally encourage rapid adoption of eFiling of criminal cases. From the standpoint of the funding authorities, in addition to the non-financial benefits, the cost savings incident to eFiling result in recovery of the budget dollars invested.

Where the court cannot obtain funding except from filers, Rules One and Two rear their unwelcome heads. Traffic citations can sometimes work, because often it is possible to tack a fee onto fines to fund the system. But as is discussed in Funding eFiling – Calculating the Cost, getting the extra money from criminal defendants is generally not a tenable option.

Thus, prosecutors and police agencies, while they would love to have the benefits of being able to eFile, are not willing to pay eFiling fees in the same manner as the attorneys for civil litigants. That model simply does not work very well for criminal cases, as the prosecutor’s “clients”, the law enforcement agencies who bring them cases, are in no better position to pay fees for their submissions to the prosecutor.

Allowing this stalemate to continue is painful, like watching shy and inexperienced junior high kids at the school dance. Somebody needs to get these people together! In many ways the already tight and pervasive integrated workflow among and across the agencies, the capabilities offered by eFiling to integrate with the various agencies’ Case, Document, and Records Management Systems, and the efficiencies to be gained from the data-centric nature of robust eFiling systems provide more benefit than civil eFiling.

One solution successfully utilized in a number of places involves inter-agency cost sharing for the backbone of the eFiling system. Filings, data, and documents can flow electronically from agency to agency. Using industry standards, the data-centric filings and communications can feed each agency’s workflow engine and can alleviate duplicate data entry both within each agency and across the justice system.

eFiling and related technology particularly tailored to each agency – the court, the prosecutor, law enforcement, corrections/jail – can further leverage the value of eFiling for each agency. Extensions to facilitate officer data, for example, can streamline filings from the police to the prosecutor. Data security can be robustly protected beyond that possible in a paper document-centric environment.

Over four years ago I suggested that eFiling would be particularly productive in the criminal area. Subsequent events, progress, and increased technological sophistication have only made the case stronger. Joining together, the justice agencies can create enough internal savings to “self-fund” eFiling in their arena.

Coming up next: Blog 8 of 10: eFiling Blog Series – Case Bind Over/Appeal

One thought on “eFiling in Criminal Cases

  1. Jeff,
    You might be interested in knowing that in California we are now circulating for comment Rules of Court to expressly authorize criminal e-filing. A couple of our local courts are already experimenting with it

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