Emulating systems implemented by the Federal and various state governments, Maryland District Court Chief Judge Benjamin C. Clyburn has spearheaded a project to create an electronic case-management system, linking every level of the state’s judiciary. Though the program is still a few years away from being completely operational, the District Court is using its latest program, eCitations (electronic traffic citations), to pave the road to lead our country’s founding institution into the electronic-age.
“eCitations is a preview,” explains Clyburn. “This tests the systems now. It tests our in-house capabilities . . . [and] people are really catching on to it.”
Conceived and created by Sgt. Richard Hartnett of the New Carrolton Police Department, eCitations provides greater efficiency to the public and the police force through its swift filing process. Over the last few years, Clyburn had been receiving requests from the masses about paying their traffic citations online, rather than paying at the courthouse. Infractions include speeding tickets, seat-belt violations, expired license plates, unsafe lane changes and failure to stop at a stop sign; more serious infractions, however, such as driving with a suspended license, under the influence of alcohol or an uninsured vehicle, still require a court appearance.
As for the men and women in the line of duty, eCitations generates a safer atmosphere as police officers can fill out the citizen and vehicle information from the confines of their squad cars, which are equipped with the proper software to transmit the data to the police station, whereupon, the District Court uploads the citation information. Motorists are handed a copy of the eCitation from the police officer and are then able to pay the fine from the convenience of their own home at www.mdcourts.gov (under the “For Citizens” heading). From October to December 2007, over $590,000 was collected through this method.
Clyburn notes that this streamlined process reduces the officers’ interaction by 60-80 percent, thereby reducing “rubber-necking” on the road, a confrontation with the driver, the chance of an officer being struck by another car and a driver’s refusal to sign the citation (no signature is required with eCitation). These points all boil down to keeping both the police force and the community safe.
As of now, the New Carrollton Police Department is the only squad with the complete eCitation system in operation, though letters of interest have been filed by approximately 11 more agencies, with the Maryland State Police (MSP) reportedly ready to begin in March, with 70 cars featuring the software. The State Police using this program would free up the courts’ time, as a third of the 1.4 million citations the District Court sees each year are submitted from the MSP.
Thus far, eCitations has moved along without any setbacks. A year ago, the proposal of electronic transfer of data to the judiciary from law enforcement agencies, without a required signature, passed through legislation on its first attempt; eCitations was enacted on October 1, 2007. Since that time, 130 eCitations have successfully moved through the judicial system, with some even going to trial.
“We have been very lucky,” admits Clyburn, “but we’ve had a great advantage: eWarnings [electronic traffic warnings] gave us the opportunity to work out the kinks [in the system] before eCitations.”
Between August and December 2007, 5,245 eWarnings were filed by the MSP to the Judiciary.
eCitations was gracefully constructed by Hartnett beginning in 2003. He approached Clyburn’s predecessor, then-District Court Chief Judge James N. Vaughn, with the plan, and initial steps were taken to advance this program. When Clyburn succeeded Vaughn a few days before the start of 2005, the faint buzz soon became a swarm.
“I got here and everybody was ready to go [with eCitations],” notes Clyburn.
With a federal grant supporting the program, Hartnett presented a hands-on demonstration involving his newly equipped squad car to Administrative Judges in the spring of 2006. From there, eCitations became a reality that is quickly spreading throughout the state.