The American criminal justice system is not always all about determining guilt or innocence and then punishing the guilty. It recognizes that some “bad actors” can be deterred from embarking on a life of crime, and can be given a “second chance” through programs that don’t result in a criminal record. For examples, see our blog posts about Mental Illness Cases, Drug Courts, Veterans Courts, Family Dependency Treatment Courts, and Diversion. These “problem-solving” or “accountability” courts are not actual courts, but special programs that impose treatment, counseling, education, restitution, and community service in lieu of … Read More
Last month we discussed judges (Justices of the Peace and Magistrates) who are not required to have law degrees, and whose courts have jurisdiction over areas larger than a city or town. Judges of city, town, village, and other municipal courts in many states are also not required to have law degrees or be practicing lawyers. These judges only have geographical jurisdiction over their own municipality, and in many states their subject-matter jurisdiction is limited to violations of the municipality’s ordinances.
We reviewed New York’s Town Courts and Village Courts in a 2010 post; with over 1200 such courts, … Read More
“Justice of the Peace” is an imposing title. Almost like Justice of the Supreme Court? Not quite; A Justice of the Peace presides over a court of limited territorial and subject-matter jurisdiction, and is addressed as “Judge” more often than “Justice”. Justices of the Peace were originally English quasi-judicial officers who volunteered to preserve the “king’s peace” in their local county or borough. Important qualifications for the position were land ownership and connections with the monarchy (and later, with the Lord Chancellor and Parliament).
American colonists brought the Justice of the Peace system with them, and it persisted throughout the … Read More
Just two months ago, we noted a recent innovation in some courts: contesting traffic tickets by mail. This is another way courts make it easier for the public to do business. For hundreds of years, every interaction with the court system required the physical presence in the courtroom of all parties involved. In just the past few years we have noted the rise of electronic filing for attorneys and then for the rest of us; telephonic appearances; video depositions; online traffic, red light camera, and parking ticket payment; and other ways of interacting with the … Read More
Yes, it does seem like there’s an app for everything. What about court calendars and other case information? Although some courts don’t have that information online, many do – and a few are providing apps to make that same information available on mobile devices.
There are many apps available to track important cases, mostly U.S. Supreme Court cases. There are also many apps that provide access to state and federal laws and court rules. So far, these are commercial products available at the app store, but neither available from nor sanctioned by court systems.
Some appellate-level courts, such as the … Read More
Generally speaking, the public has access to all court records except those restricted by federal law, state law, court rule, or court order. If a court record includes personal information about an individual (whether a party to the case, witness, informant, minor, or juror) that is protected by legislative or judicial rule, that information is to be redacted, or that part of the record is to be sealed. Examples of restricted private data, (known as “personal identifiers”) include: full social security numbers, financial or health records, identification of minors or certain crime victims, adoption and probate records, and paternity results. … Read More
Court systems continue to develop new ways of streamlining their procedures to reduce their expenses and backlog, and to improve customer service. Last year we noted the rise of telephonic court appearances for self-represented parties in some types of hearings. But “phoning it in” isn’t the only way to avoid a trip to the courthouse. In some areas, it is now possible to contest your traffic ticket by mail.
While telephone hearings are limited to routine motions that don’t require presentation of evidence or sworn testimony, traffic ticket mail contests are the real thing: the determination of guilt or innocence. … Read More
We last discussed eviction procedures in our post about Landlord Tenant Laws back in April, 2008. Now for a brief update:
As noted in the original post, most eviction cases are heard by courts of general jurisdiction, such as Superior Courts or District Courts. Of course specific courts’ jurisdiction varies from state to state, depending on the structure of each state’s judicial system. In a few states, evictions may be handled by local courts of limited jurisdiction.
As if finding which court handles evictions in a given state weren’t difficult enough, the process of kicking out a tenant isn’t even … Read More
Contrary to stereotypes of hard-nosed prosecutors and stern judges, not every District Attorney or criminal court judge is out to lock up every lawbreaker for the maximum term. In every state, there are programs designed to keep offenders out of jail and to steer them away from future offenses. We’re all familiar with probation, which substitutes supervision for jail time.
In recent years, other types of alternative approaches have been implemented. We’ve documented several of them: Mental Health Courts, Drug Courts, Juvenile Diversion, Veterans Courts, Adult Diversion, Family Dependency Treatment Court, and Traffic School… Read More
In June 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court directed the state’s public defenders to limit their caseloads and certify compliance with the new numerical standards on a quarterly basis. With the goal of improving the quality of legal representation for indigent defendants, the Court has adopted standards that were formerly considered advisory and largely unenforceable. But by imposing a cap on the number and type of cases a public defender can handle, the Court has burdened local government with potentially devastating costs, as cities and counties in Washington state currently contract for their defender services. With already strained budgets, how … Read More