In the Journal’s recent article, “Odds of beating a DWI charge: Roughly 50-50,” it was suggested Metropolitan Court judges are casually dismissing DWI cases even when officers are present in the courthouse. This came as a surprise given the lengths our court has gone in accommodating officers’ busy schedules. Any assertion that our judges are dismissing cases simply because an officer is in another courtroom is unfounded. I’d like to offer some insight today as to how the Metropolitan Court works, and its many initiatives and long-standing efforts to balance the interests of the public and other agencies when scheduling cases.
Recognizing the need for a law enforcement presence in the community, the Metropolitan Court in 1994 engineered a scheduling system within its case management system. Officers provide days and times when they are able to appear in court, and the system defaults to the officer’s available times when setting hearings.
Realizing that officers are often scheduled in multiple courtrooms at once, the Metropolitan Court also created an “Officer Check-In System” in 2007 where officers can “check-in” at one of the court’s kiosks as they enter the courthouse. Judges, staff and attorneys are then able to use the system to see, in real time, if an officer has checked in and in which courtrooms an officer is scheduled to appear. Law enforcement is also able to update the system from outside of the courthouse to notify judges and courtroom staff if, for example, an officer is running late. Metro Court is one of only a handful of courts in the country with this technology.
In addition to providing all parties with written notice of court hearings, in April 2017 Metro Court also started a courtesy text service where defendants are sent text message reminders of court dates. The $800 per year cost for the service is minimal when compared to the cost of issuing bench warrants, arresting defendants and rescheduling cases.
The court also has a flexible calendaring system with multiple trial settings available each day as judges manage hefty dockets. On average, our judges hear 50-60 cases a day, ranging from speeding violations to domestic violence and driving while intoxicated charges. Roughly 90 cases can be set for trial each week per judge. Judges generally call “quicker” hearings first, such as arraignments and traffic cases, and will often come back to a case when they know that an officer is appearing in another courtroom.
Often more than one case is ready for trial at the same time. Because they cannot all be heard at once, judges will confer with the officers and attorneys to decide which cases should proceed and in what order. Despite the court’s many efforts to accommodate the parties, cases are not always ready for trial. Out of the 831 DWI cases that were dismissed in fiscal 2017, 708 of those cases were dismissed because: the parties failed to complete discovery, lack of prosecution, or the state/prosecution was not ready for trial or was unable to proceed. Of the remaining 123 dismissals, 51 of those cases were resolved by plea agreement, and the remaining dismissals ranged from defendants being found incompetent to having passed away, among other reasons.
Officers and attorneys are very familiar with how cases flow in Metro Court, and we invite the public to come and observe the process. Judges are very mindful of the time that officers, attorneys, parties and witnesses have taken to appear for a scheduled hearing and do their best to balance those interests with the fundamental constitutional rights of the defendant.
The Metropolitan Court welcomes continued communication with justice stakeholders such as law enforcement agencies, the District Attorney’s Office, the Law Office of the Public Defender, and the defense bar in its ongoing mission to ensure fair and equal access to justice for all parties.