If we asked you to name TV shows and movies that frequently depict courtroom scenarios, you’d likely have a list of 10+ without having to put much thought into it. NCIS, Hawaii Five-0, Forensic Files, Judge Judy, Making a Murder, Dexter…. The list truly goes on and on. Americans love true crime, forensic investigation, and watching justice be carried out. Detective work and subsequent trials are fascinating, leading to a hugely popular genre of entertainment.
While it’s great to have the justice system represented in the media, many people do not fully grasp just how exaggerated these film instances are. DNA evidence cannot be analyzed in minutes; it can take months or even years! Obtaining evidence from multiple crime scenes and creating a criminal profile is not done overnight. Of course, in order to stick to a time constraint of 30-60 minute episodes, TV shows have to expedite these crucial processes. Many viewers might be shocked to know just how long solving a case will actually take in a real-life scenario.
Not only are these processes complex, but they are also tedious and time-consuming. Some delays are necessary to collect more evidence or allow enough time to analyze exhibits, but other issues stem from legacy systems that have been in the justice system for years. Many courts have come to realize that the industry, on average, is below the curve in terms of digital prowess. This is not anyone’s fault, as the industry has been around for centuries, and certain traditional systems just stuck. Now is the time to ramp up digital transformation to bring systems up-to-date and improve the access all parties have to key pieces of information.
In this second installment of the Digital Transformation Series, let’s talk about courts.
How Can You Implement Digital Transformation?
The courts are very similar to government entities in that many staff members have been on board for years. You can teach an “old dog” new tricks, but they might not always be enthusiastic about it. As we discussed in Part 1, a step-by-step approach gives you the best chance of success. Start from the very specific and small problems, and let the effects expand towards broader, more overarching issues. Break down problems as such:
- Core Problem: Lack of communication between all parties in a case
- Main Problem: Delays in accessing evidence
- Sub-Problem: You’re using physical documents and items that only one party can view at a time
- Sub-Problem: Various evidence formats are in play, some of which cannot be shared without a specific device or a piece of software.
- Sub-Problem: There is no audit trail, so chain of custody sparks a debate
- Main Problem: Cases are taking a long time
- Sub-Problem: Physical paperwork is getting lost in the fray
- Sub-Problem: Signatures are required from parties outside your department or organization
- Sub-Problem: One hand (department) doesn’t know what the other hand is doing
- i.e Law enforcement cannot communicate easily with Attorneys or Judges
- Main Problem: Delays in accessing evidence
As you can see, the core problem is an amalgamation of main problems and even more specific sub-problems. When you identify the base-level issues, that’s when you can target them for change. We would never recommend attacking the core problem right off the bat. Not only is it usually not possible, but it also can be ineffective because the sublevel problems will persist. You can’t stick a band-aid over a bad cut and expect it to go away. It might be a quick fix, but the internal issues will make themselves known later.
We’ve found that the best way to start is within departments. Get everyone on the same page and implement changes at a small scale to build trust and comfort. If Department D can manage electronic filing, then the higher-level Department C certainly can. It’s a policy that helps keep stakes low during the transition period.
What Are Some Changes You Can Make?
Different states have different requirements for courts, and Federal courts have their own rules entirely. You can also expect to see some differences between departments of the same office, and between different legs of the justice system. As such, there’s no catch-all answer as to what type of digital transformation should come first. We can, however, recommend some digital solutions that have proven beneficial across the board.
- Digital Evidence Management (DEM): Digital Evidence Management (DEM) is a relatively new idea that has taken the justice system by storm. Well, to be more precise, it’s a new iteration of a tried and true system – CMS. The basic concept is the same; store and manage date in a centralized location. The only difference is the type of data. DEM allows parties from different areas of the industry to upload, store, manage, normalize, and playback evidence in a variety of formats. These days, more cases include some type of digital evidence from cell phone dumps to zip files to social media pages and more. Without the proper solutions in place, you may run into some evidence files that you are unable to view or show in court. Videos are particularly tricky, as many CCTV, security cameras, and home/doorbell cameras use proprietary formats. ImageSoft’s Digital Evidence Management solution can normalize and convert several proprietary formats into a file type that can be viewed on nearly any device. In addition, some of the benefits we hear about frequently include 24/7 remote access, automated audit trail, easy searches, options to reorganize or group files, and in-platform commenting/notation.
- Electronic Signatures: Collecting signatures can be a far more time-consuming job than you may imagine. Between packed schedules, miscommunication, and travel requirements, collecting a signature can be a hassle that slows down the entire process. Especially in this more remote work world, digital alternatives are essential to keep up with the times. Electronic signatures can be collected on a PDF and signed in real-time. TrueSign, ImageSoft’s proprietary solution, allows users to sign via email, text, or QR code. Flexible and mobile options greatly improve your chances of getting documents signed on time. E-Signatures are convenient for all parties and have been legally accepted in court since the E-Sign Act of 2000. Send documents or envelopes internally or externally and you’ll have your required signature in no time.
- Electronic Filing: The justice system handles a lot of paperwork on a daily basis. Warrants, internal documents, contracts, evidence files, summons, records, minutes, notes, and countless other papers are passed around the courts. As you would imagine, storing and organizing all these documents can be a nightmare for even the most senior staff. Electronic Filing is an excellent choice to kickstart your digital transformation. By scanning and uploading your documents to a centralized database, you have 24/7 access, and you can clear off your desks from stacks of files. An on-premises or cloud-based system offers security via encryption that allows you to confidently share files as needed. Rather than rummage through filing cabinets for hours, you and your coworkers can easily find what you need and be on your way. Clerks often rave about our TrueFiling solution because it removes duplicate recording and allows for easy recall if a document is needed at a later date. Goodbye binders of years-old records!
- Online Dispute Resolution (ODR): If you’re feeling up to a bit more of a challenge, consider implementing Online Dispute Resolution (ODR). Settling disputes is a very common case type in the courts. Whether it be a dispute between a landlord and a tenant, spouses, or an insurance company and their client, dispute resolution can be tricky. Emotions are high and being in the same room as the other party can be distressing. ODR works to make dispute resolution more accessible and less intimidating. By taking the process online, fees are cut drastically, the turnaround is typically faster, and the involved parties can partake from an environment they are comfortable with. Resolve Disputes Online, a partner of ours, even offers AI mediation. You can settle a dispute without needing a lawyer! For those that are not able to afford attorney fees, this opens doors they never thought possible. ODR will take some dispute cases off your hands and make the more complex cases more efficient.
Keep in mind that the above steps can be completed in any order. There are countless other ways you can slowly begin to introduce digital solutions into the courts as well. By taking things one step at a time, your team will not feel overwhelmed by the changes and the transition will be as smooth as possible. As we begin to rely more on technology as a whole, this is the best time to begin moving towards digital transformation. Legacy systems have done their part, but it’s time to start upgrading. To learn more about digital transformation in the courts, visit https://nathana12.sg-host.com/courts/.