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More Court Tech: Skype Hearings

October 30th, 2015 · No Comments

At CourtReference, we’re always alert for advances in court technology. We don’t just mean finding court records; CourtReference has provided links to online court record resources, other court-related resources, and court websites for many years. We’re talking about interaction with the court by actual parties to the case.

Gone are the days when every interaction with the court took place in person. Payment of court fines online was one of the first methods of conducting court business electronically, and now it’s the most common; we covered it here, here, and here.

Once it became so easy to admit your guilt and pay your fine online, it was only a matter of time before some courts allowed you to fight your fine online; we covered an example of that here. Further expansion of online and e-mail options in Washington (arguably the high-tech capital of the world) included not only parking ticket cases, but also traffic tickets, other minor infractions, deferral and mitigation requests, anti-harassment orders, and even small claims case filing.

Filing of court papers by attorneys has been possible for years, but some courts now allow – some even require – electronic filing by parties without an attorney. We examined e-filing of court papers here and here.

Parties’ court appearances by telephone have been allowed by some courts in some cases for several years. But telephones are so “2000″ – now some courts allow video appearances. What could be next, after telephonic and video appearances? Hmmm … could it be SKYPE? Of course it could, at least if your appearance is in Missoula Municipal Court (click the “Preparing for Court” link on that website) in Montana, and your offense doesn’t potentially involve jail time. Skype appearances are also permitted in some juvenile dependency hearings in California’s Santa Clara Superior Court. That same court is about to also start permitting Skype hearings in some family law mediation proceedings.

What’s next? Court hearings by telepathy? Don’t laugh – technology happens fast. Keep checking CourtReference, and this blog, for new developments.

→ No CommentsTags: California · Court Systems · · Montana · Technology · Washington

A New Specialty Court: Sex!

September 28th, 2015 · No Comments

Special court programs to deal with specific types of cases exist in every state. “Accountability Courts” or “Problem-Solving Courts” or “Therapeutic Courts” are special court programs that use treatment and social services in lieu of incarceration. We’ve covered specific types over the years: Drug Courts here and here, Mental Health Courts, Family Dependency Treatment Courts, and Veterans Courts.

These programs include intensive supervision by a team that includes the judge, and have proven to reduce recidivism and save their jurisdictions money, because treatment is less expensive than jail. Offenders with substance abuse and/or mental health problems get the help they need, and in many cases have their charges dismissed when they complete the program.

Substance abuse and mental health problems are obvious candidates for treatment in lieu of incarceration. What other type of human weakness might lend itself to treatment? Well, we covered Gun Courts, which do include education and supervisions, but but usually include incarceration. Could we have exhausted the possibilities for accountability/problem-solving/therapeutic courts?

Not quite, if you are in Salt Lake City. Salt Lake County Criminal Justice Services, the Salt Lake City Prosecutor’s Office, Third Judicial District Court, Salt Lake City Justice Court, the Utah Legal Defender Association, and other local agencies collaborate to offer the usual array of “therapeutic” programs. These include Drug Court, Mental Health Court, the “Passages” program combining treatment and restitution, and various mental health and substance abuse treatment programs.

But Salt Lake City has two unique programs for another human weakness that can sometimes benefit from treatment: sex! Not the whole gamut of sex; just two types of behavior that can affect the general public, not just one’s sex partner.

John’s Offender Program includes a series of group educational sessions – and even a “prostitute panel” – for defendants charged with soliciting sex for money. Healthy Self-Expressions includes an assessment and both group and individual clinical sessions for defendants charged with sexual activity in a public place. Participants who successfully complete either program – and it’s not inconceivable that the same defendant could end up in both – have their charges dismissed.

Have we now seen every possible type of accountability/problem-solving/therapeutic courts? Perhaps, but given the cost of incarceration and the value of changing behavior instead of just punishing it, the criminal justice system may well find more ways to save. Keep an eye on CourtReference to keep up with new developments in your state.

→ No CommentsTags: · New Sites · Uncategorized

Different Type of Court, Same Type of Name?

August 31st, 2015 · No Comments

We talked about about the different types of courts you might find in different states here, including the difficulty of figuring out which local court handles your type of case (and the fact that CourtReference helps you figure that out). If you know the name of each court in your area, you can go to CourtReference and see what types of cases that court handles.

But just knowing the name of a court may not always be enough, depending on where you live. For example, you would think that a “Municipal Court” would have jurisdiction over a particular municipality (i.e., a particular city or town). But if you were in Ohio, you’d be wrong! We explored Ohio’s Municipal Courts here, pointing out that some Ohio Municipal Courts have jurisdiction over an entire county, some over most but not all of a county, and some over a single city or town.

Even if you know all about a court’s territorial jurisdiction, two courts in the same county with the same type of name may not always have the same subject matter jurisdiction. For example, Arkansas has two types of District Courts: State District Courts and Local District Courts – even though they are all called simply District Courts. Arkansas’ Local District Courts have jurisdiction over civil claims up to $5,000, while State District Courts have jurisdiction up to $25,000. Whether your lawsuit for $10,000 can be filed in District Court or Circuit Court depends on which type of District Court exists in your location. And if all parties agree, a case may be transferred from Circuit Court to a State District Court – but not to a Local District Court. Helpful hint: Arkansas Local District Courts took the place of former City Courts, and some local residents still refer to their local court as a City Court – so if you hear that, you know they’re talking about a Local District Court.

We previously discussed types of courts that are allowed to have non-lawyer judges. In some states, some Municipal Courts can have non-lawyer judges, while other Municipal Courts must have judges who possess a law degree; we covered those in detail here. We pointed out in that post that whether a Municipal Court judge has a law degree or not, there is usually no difference in the court’s jurisdiction or case procedures.

In some states, some Magistrate Courts can have non-lawyer judges, while other Magistrate Courts must have magistrates who possess a law degree; we covered those – along with Justice of the Peace Courts – in detail here. In contrast to Municipal Courts, Magistrate Courts with non-lawyer judges often have narrower subject-matter jurisdiction than Magistrate Courts in which the magistrate has a law degree.

In that same blog post, we noted that Justice of the Peace Courts are normally presided over by non-lawyer judges. Justice of the Peace Courts may sometimes be called Justice Courts, and they usually have limited territorial jurisdiction, such as a single precinct or district within a county. Utah has a type of court named Justice Courts, which have their own local twist: they can be County Justice Courts with countywide jurisdiction, or Municipal (or City) Justice Courts with local jurisdiction.

Most Utah County Justice Courts include the word “County” in their name, and most Municipal Justice Court do not include the word “Municipal” or “City” in their name. But of course there are exceptions: just look at the names of the Justice Courts in Cache County. Which one is the County Justice Court? None of them! They are all Municipal Justice Courts. Carbon County is a little easier; its County Justice Court says it’s a County Justice Court, even though two of the Municipal Justice Courts don’t let on that they’re local courts. To add a further twist, some County Justice Courts don’t really have jurisdiction over the entire county; they only have jurisdiction over a precinct in the county. See Beaver County for an example.

Confusing? Yes, it is. Always check CourtReference for an explanation of your state’s court system. If that doesn’t do the trick, just call the court – we have court contact information too.

→ No CommentsTags: Arkansas · Court Systems · · Ohio · Utah