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Linked Systems Automate Petty Offense Case Management for First Time

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In July, the District of Maryland was the first court to throw away the paper in processing petty offenses, linking their Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system with the Central Violations Bureau (CVB), the national center charged with processing citations issued and payments received for petty offenses committed on federal property. The integration of the two systems automates how petty cases are scheduled and assigned, eliminates paper docketing, and improves record keeping, among other enhancements.

Four district courts will go live on the application this summer, with the integrated system being made available to the remaining district courts later this year. In addition to the District of Maryland, the three initial courts are the Northern District of Florida, the Western District of Louisiana, and the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Federal parks and military bases generate most of the 400,000 violations, also called citations or tickets, processed annually by the CVB. Citations may be issued by the Postal Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and police on military bases, among others.

The CVB processes more citations for Maryland than for any other district in the country.

“The District of Maryland handles over 30,000 petty offense cases per year,” said Clerk of Court Felicia Cannon. “And for the first time, we have all our cases in one case management system. We hope to gain efficiencies in terms of the work process, and we’ll no longer need to dedicate resources to an antiquated local system to handle these petty offenses. It’s the right way to treat the cases.”

Currently, all violation notices are sent to the CVB in San Antonio, Texas, where the tickets are scanned and entered into the database. CVB maintains the official court record for each case and mails court notices to defendants. Approximately two weeks before each docket call, the CVB prepares and mails to each magistrate judge copies of the docket list, citations, and warrants.

With the integration of CVB and CM/ECF, the violation notices are still sent to San Antonio, but two weeks prior to scheduled hearings, all the information about the case, including data on the defendants, citations, and ticket images, is transmitted electronically to the court.  The cases are extracted from CVB and transmitted to the court overnight, where they are automatically opened in CM/ECF, creating the official court record. CM/ECF also assigns a judge—usually a magistrate judge—and a prosecuting attorney, notifies case participants and schedules hearings, or re-schedules them, if necessary—all automatically. Case disposition information is generated, along with fillable electronic forms. After a hearing date, the court clerk or presiding judge can electronically annotate the docket with the disposition of each case. The docket, which was previously mailed or faxed to the CVB where the dispositions were updated on the CVB database, is already part of the CM/ECF system.

Integrating the two systems took the combined efforts of the court and the Administrative Office. 

“Our court received a Judiciary IT grant to partner with the Western District of Louisiana on a project to improve how we handled our petty offenses,” said Cannon. “But I was sure we didn’t need another database to manage cases when we had CM/ECF. That’s when Bruce Curran, a technology specialist at the AO, took on the project. He brought in Ted Willmann at the CVB, as well as other Office of Court Administration Technology Division staff. It was a huge undertaking integrating two systems that essentially didn’t speak the same language. On the court side, Magistrate Judge Kathleen Kay in the Western District of Louisiana led the charge convincing magistrate judges that a national system was needed. From start to finish it took nearly three years, but we did it.”

The integrated system can produce a list of CVB petty offense cases for a specific date, time, and hearing location. Plea agreements and terms of supervision, and arrest warrants can be generated automatically; CM/ECF also flags moving violations to report to the motor vehicle departments in the various states.

The number of petty offense cases disposed of, and the amount of time spent on the cases by magistrate judges is now automatically tracked and reported to the AO.

In addition, integrating the two systems allows public searches of the Public Access to Court Records system for cases by defendant name and case number.

“Even districts with a small CVB docket will see the advantage of this integration,” said Cannon.

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