There’s never been a better, and more pressing, time for courts to enter the digital age. Online platforms aimed at connecting the courts, police, prosecutors, and citizens are designed to help courts reduce the overwhelming backlog of cases that has become the norm throughout the country. This inefficiency doesn’t do justice to our court system, our communities, or our citizens.
It’s hard to imagine, in the context of today’s court model, a citizen being satisfied with their judicial experience. And it’s easy to understand why, when judges and prosecutors share that frustration, born of too many cases and too little time.
Online platforms can enable the courts to act as the central role in connecting people and prosecutors to the justice system, optimizing the process and taking care of cases that don’t need to be heard in court.
According to the 2012 Court Statistics Project of the National Center for State Courts, 55 percent of cases in Michigan are traffic violations. Focusing on just this area of opportunity for innovation alone can have a tremendous impact on the effectiveness of courts.
Technology can extend courts to citizens and the community, and take the high volume traffic violations, defaulted tickets, and related warrants off the docket. This approach frees courts to more efficiently hear those cases that need to be resolved in the courtroom.
Several courts in Michigan are starting to use online technology to process civil infractions such as traffic and parking as well as failure to appear and failure to pay warrants.
Our Court, the 74th District Court in Bay County, Michigan, uses an online platform that walks individuals through a series of qualifying questions to help determine whether they are eligible to resolve their violation online. For traffic violations, a defendant submits their position, which is first reviewed by staff at the Bay County Prosecutor’s Office. From there, our magistrate or I reviews the case and determines next steps, including assessing fines that a defendant can pay online.
Those with warrants for a missed court date or outstanding fines in Bay County can request a resolution without the risk of being taken into custody. For failure to appear, a defendant can provide a reason for their absence and be given a new court date. For failure to pay warrants, citizens can submit a payment online, set up a payment plan and have their warrant recalled.
By making it easier for citizens to interact with the courts, the justice system can show it’s paying attention to quality and proactively making justice more accessible for all.
Looking forward to sharing more details at NCSC’s CTC on September 22nd in Minneapolis.