State Statutes Got You Stressed? Go Paperless

By: Steve Glisky, Practice Manager, ImageSoft

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The criminal justice system holds prosecutors and law enforcement officers to unique statutory responsibilities which, when not honored, can lead to misconduct and disciplinary action. The effort required to ensure these protocols are respected at times take a backseat to the daily grind of pushing stacks of paper files through the justice system.

Jurisdictions that move from paper to electronic-based prosecution increase the speed and consistency of prosecuting cases.  A solution that expands throughput while systemizing compliance rules helps improve justice and community confidence.  As a blueprint feature of the Paperless Prosecutor Solution (PPS), statute compliancy has been built into the daily operations of prosecutors’ offices across the country.

You Ask, We Answer

As we walk through each of these compliancy features, think about your own processes and how you honor each of these responsibilities. Are you taking unnecessary time-consuming steps? Is your protocol safeguarding your cases as much as it should?

CJIS Security Policy

Passing a CJIS Security Audit goes beyond just getting your staff and partners finger printed and trained.  A key tenant to CJIS security requirements is that any data exchanged between law enforcement and prosecution must be encrypted end-to-end and while at rest.  Simply receiving sensitive information from law enforcement via a standard email is a sure way to fail an audit and incur penalties. The Paperless Prosecutor Solution is the Rx for CJIS audit anxiety because it uses an innovative and secure Law Enforcement Agency Portal (LEAP) for streamlining communication with the prosecutor’s office.  Paperless prosecution is a great way to audit proof your office while enjoying a peace of mind that critical information is safe and secure.

Discovery

It’s a violation of due process if the prosecution fails to disclose evidence throughout the life of a case.  In the paper world, it’s often difficult to track and prove when discoverable materials are sent.  Any missteps could result in a mistrial or a decision being overturned.

Paperless prosecution protects the office against these types of challenges by automating the discovery process, enabling the systematic redaction of documents at the time of intake, and providing a complete audit trail of when and to whom discoverable materials are sent. Updated discovery statuses and materials are always available anytime in the courtroom or office.

Victim Rights

The prosecutor must notify victims about many things, including their rights to participate in the case, receive plea agreement recommendations, and attend the sentencing hearing to express how the crime has affected their lives. As all prosecutors know, failure to honor these responsibilities undermines justice by not giving the victim a voice in the outcome of the case.

PPS ensures that justice is served by automatically alerting the Victim Rights Coordinator to send out notifications to the victim based upon pre-defined rules of the office.  This keeps the victim engaged throughout the case and helps uphold the public’s trust in their prosecutor and the entire justice system.

Subpoenas

Prosecutors must properly subpoena witnesses prior to court hearings.  If the witness fails to appear, it’s incumbent on the prosecutor to know the serve status of the subpoena.  If the witness was properly served but failed to appear, a bench warrant could be issued depending on the circumstance.  In a paper-based environment, it’s very difficult to locate accurate serve-status information at the time of the hearing.

This isn’t a problem, however, with PPS, which delivers real-time serve status updates from the LEAP portal to the Prosecutor’s electronic case file. Going a step further, this data-driven approach also equips the prosecutor with the number of attempts it took to serve the witness.

In-Custody Arrests

In-custody arrests are time sensitive for the Prosecutor.  Typically, prosecutors have only 48 hours to make a charging decision.  If the Prosecutor fails to issue charges within this timeframe, law enforcement must let potentially dangerous offenders go free.  Unfortunately, mistakes and delays do occur, and inadvertent releases happen more than they should.

PPS protects the public against this threat by color coding in-custody prosecution requests red with high priority.  If prosecution requests are not screened within three hours, an automatic alert is sent out to the assigned attorney and office administrator.  Additional escalation alerts are sent to the Chief Assistant Prosecutor and the Prosecutor if the request still hasn’t been screened within a pre-designated timeframe. The combination of real-time data exchange with law enforcement and built-in priority escalation and alerts gives the prosecutor the upper hand in keeping dangerous felons off the street.

Conflict-of-Interest Cases

When a conflict of interest exists, prosecutors are obligated to lock out certain users from viewing a case file. This occurs when an office employee is closely related to a party or has some special relationship to the case that may call into question the person’s objectivity and how the case would be handled.  PPS safeguards sensitive details from these individuals to ensure the consistency and integrity of the office.

Policy Administration

For large offices or state-wide deployments, PPS manages policy and procedure administration from end-to-end through Document Knowledge Transfer and Compliance (DKTC). DKTC ensures all employees have access to the most up-to-date versions of required materials and that deadlines for review and acknowledgement are enforced. Compliance testing is available to gauge employees’ comprehension of distributed content via scoring reports and test certificates.

What We’re Really Trying to Say

PPS is a valuable tool for keeping the Prosecutor’s office and Law Enforcement Agencies compliant with state rules. Creating a digital environment with PPS also improves prosecution efficiency, consistency, and transparency. Jurisdictions across the nation are investing in this innovation and, as a result, better serving and protecting their communities.

PPS Cloud, a new tool for reducing upfront costs and deploy times, will also soon be available. Please contact us if you’re interested in learning more about staying statute compliant with the Paperless Prosecution Solution.

 

A Content Writer Walks Into A Prosecutor’s Office…

By: Katie Pusz, Copywriter, ImageSoft

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To be more specific, it was me – a 5’1” content writer — walking into the St. Clair County Courthouse, and I’m pretty sure it was the door security who had a good laugh as I uncertainly put my belongings on the conveyor belt to be scanned. Clearly, nervous me was the least of their worries, which helped to put me more at ease. I guess being small and nerdy does have its perks.

Smiling Click to Click

Once I made it past that rigorous security checkpoint, I was now walking into the prosecutor’s office. St. Clair County Prosecutor Michael Wendling and his support team were kind enough to host me for a few hours and walk me through the every-day applications of ImageSoft’s Paperless Prosecutor Solution. Again, I was greeted with smiles and light-hearted humor from all, and immediately felt comfortable enough to be myself.

Before touring me through the office, Michael took some time to chat with me about his perspective on our paperless solution. In our short conversation, I was already taken aback by how much value he was describing just from a prosecutor’s perspective. Much of his emphasis was on the digital workflow, which housed expert opinions, case notes, and other crucial information directly on the file. Best yet, the prosecutor had all this information at his fingertips in real time. Not only was this huge for court prep and general work on the file, but it was crucial to having well-informed conversations with victims or any of their loved ones who might call on a whim. Not surprisingly, just having these few efficiencies enhanced communication among the entire office and boosted the overall morale. Suddenly, the many smiles that greeted me were making sense!

A Very Millennial Assumption

Before I dive any deeper into all that I learned from my visit, I have a confession to make. I am a millennial, and because technology has been an instrumental tool for much of my life, I automatically conceptualize processes in a way that leverages the digital world. So when I learned that many law firms, prosecutor’s offices, courts, and law enforcement agencies are still so paper-heavy, I was shocked! After all, it is 2018 (looking at you, paper lovers!).

One of the St. Clair County clerks recalled the times before they were paperless and actually employed an extra person just to assemble files. And I do mean assemble, complete with manila folders, hand-written labels, and a lot of paper. That’s all this person did – all day! That entire process is now done in a few minutes with even fewer clicks, and it’s not buried in filing cabinets or collecting dust under a desk, and the most up-to-date file can be quickly accessed by all authorized parties. One workflow fixed at least three glaring problems that plague almost every office – who would’ve thought!

Becoming aware of my own assumption that all things are digitized also made me think about the opposite side of the coin: there are many people who conceptualize processes, legal and every-day, as paper-heavy, pencil-in-hand activities. As someone from the across the pendulum, I’m not passing judgment. But I do hope that reading this blog will shed some light on a few efficiency problems you may not have even realized were problems, and open you up to the solutions that can help you.

Behind the Scenes: Warrant Processing

My first stop was the warrant processing department. At the beginning of every day, the clerk looks to her electronic workflow for any in-custody warrants (conveniently highlighted in red) because she knows those need her immediate attention. Within the workflow, the clerk can assign each warrant a case tracking number (CTN), assign the warrant to the appropriate authorizing attorney and push it into that attorney’s queue. From there, the authorizing attorney can electronically send the approved or denied warrant back to the prosecutor’s office. If the warrant is approved by the attorney, it’s placed in an electronic work folder alongside evidence, police reports, search warrants, fingerprints, and other related information. As the clerk explained, anyone with access to the workflow can key that CTN and see all case information and related charges or felonies, and even generate a witness list.

Sometimes, people want to re-open a case that hasn’t been touched in years. “In the paper days, we would have to start fresh because the original file would have been shredded to make room for new files,” said the clerk. “But today, that’s not a problem. We simply key a CTN search and up pops all the case’s information.”

While most of these processes are generally done in a few minutes, the clerk did mention the longest part of her day. “PDF printing into OnBase, which takes an entire 10 minutes.” For those who aren’t familiar with OnBase by Hyland, the core of the Paperless Prosecutor Solution, users can store content directly from any application into OnBase by using Window’s print function, whether it’s a report from a website or data from another system.

Behind the Scenes: Subpoenas

Down another hallway, I chatted with a different clerk who managed subpoenas. Fun fact: the entire office space where this clerk sits used to be dedicated solely to case storage. Imagine it: banker boxes and filing cabinets everywhere!

Once inside their case management system (CMS), the clerk keyed a swift shift + left click to pull a case file and could see all its related information and charges, including bench trial notes. Subpoenas that are ready to be issued are then electronically sent to the police cars that are nearest to the person being served. The officer can then print the subpoena straight from his or her squad car and potentially serve the person within minutes.

“Before we had this electronic workflow, we printed subpoenas and they sat in a pick-up box until an officer stopped by to grab it,” said the subpoena processing clerk. “Worse yet, if an officer had the subpoena but then went off shift or on vacation, the subpoena would just sit in the officer’s bag until he or she came back on duty. Often, the subpoena would get lost or forgotten about, and the person would never be served.”

Now, the subpoenas are immediately issued and typically get served right away. If they can’t be served straightaway, at least they stay top-of-mind in the officer’s queue. And with a full audit trail, the prosecutor can be confident in court when saying whether a subpoena has been served, when, and by whom.

Behind the Scenes: Discovery

When an officer has received evidence relating to a case, he or she is able to electronically upload it to a digital discovery portal where it is automatically shared with the prosecutor’s office. Police reports, lab results, photos and more are then included in an exhibit list and electronically sent over to the appropriate defense attorney.

If the clerks aren’t sure of the defense attorney on file, they can quickly key a search to find the P number on the case.

A Content Writer Walks Out of a Prosecutor’s Office

And wanders around, half-panicked that my nerdy self can’t remember where I parked my car.

Eventually I find it though, and enjoy the lake view in my rearview mirror as I drive off, knowing that The Paperless Prosecutor Solution has maximized this county’s case processing efficiency and strengthened the safety of this peaceful community. My only hope is that more prosecutor’s offices can better protect and serve their communities by sharing in the story of “I remember when…” instead of the daily, “we need more paper again!”

 

 

 

Through an Officer’s Eyes: How Going Paperless is Strengthening Law Enforcement

By: Katie Pusz, Copywriter, ImageSoft 

As the first eyes on a crime scene, law enforcement sees a case from the first-responder’s call all the way to a conviction. While officers understandably want to stay updated on the lifecycle of their cases, their intimacy and communication with the entire process is also critical to putting criminals behind bars and ensuring a successful prosecution.

Typically, prosecutors and law enforcement have no problem joining forces, but many do run into a problem communicating it. As explained by Bronx Law Guide, the prosecution process takes about one year from the time a suspect is arrested until they go to trial. That may not seem like a long while, but when rape or homicide is the situation at hand, time is everything.

Where is time being lost?

158_policetechIn-between the lines… literally. After evaluating an incident, an officer now must prepare a report. Sometimes they are handwritten, or sometimes they are typed and printed, but reports have historically always been on paper. Either way, the document then needs to be physically transported to the prosecuting attorney’s (PA) office. Once the PA makes his or her decision, the paper report has to make its way back to the officers, who then have to disseminate that information to everyone on the case. Because there is often significant mileage between the main office, sub-stations, and officers on the field, this creates a notable time delay and poses a threat to the overall integrity of the case.

The Solution?

An entirely paperless process. One of the most sought-after features of The Paperless Prosecutor Solution is TrueFiling’s LEAP (law enforcement agency portal). Through its secure channel, LEAP rapidly transmits critical information between law enforcement and the prosecutor. From securing warrants and subpoena management to evidence submittal and updating a case’s status, LEAP electronically communicates all pertinent information within minutes, even from a PA’s office in one corner of a county to an officer on the field.

Producing Possibility Post-Paper

Being alleviated from paper-heavy files and not relying on good traffic conditions to make progress on a case are only two of the many benefits of The Paperless Prosecutor Solution. Electronic communication opens the door to several other means for a seamless, real-time trade of information between officers, prosecutors, and sheriffs.

  1. Instant Gratification from Instant Communication 

    As mentioned earlier, The Paperless Prosecutor Solution was designed to address the lag in communication between law enforcement, prosecutors, and courts. But not only will Law Enforcement be able to facilitate faster processes, they will also receive automatic notifications on any informational updates, including the prosecutor’s notes, real-time case status updates, dispositions, evidence management, and more. Charging documents will also be sent, received, and accessed electronically. Eliminating the need for a runner, these digitized changes also liberate officers from their desks while still allowing them to check a case or communicate documents.

  2. You’ll be Smitten with Submittin’ 

    Digitizing communication lessens the risk of human error by standardizing the submittal process. The electronic forms require all necessary data is collected, and ensures every submission adheres to the same procedure. Its highly-configurable integrative powers make The Paperless Prosecutor Solution an option for any current RMS and, as a result, any office. And if you’re not at the office? No problem! So long as you have secure internet connection, you can access exactly what you need, whenever you need it.

  3. The Audit You’ll Actually Want 

    No, the IRS isn’t coming for you. With a full audit trail for all documents, file owners are able to see who accessed or edited a document and when, which ensures accountability for sensitive documents like subpoenas. Police departments will no longer have to manually maintain a log sheet of their communications, as documents will automatically log two-way communications.

  4. Automating Your Autograph 

    Even more in demand than Brad Pitt’s signature, law enforcement needs to securely and efficiently lend their autograph daily. With TrueSign, officers and sheriffs can electronically and remotely sign charging documents, search warrants, and more.

What Are You Waiting For? LEAP to it!

With the ability to quickly push cases along and put criminals behind bars sooner rather than later, The Paperless Prosecutor Solution is a revolutionary tool for law enforcement and, most importantly, the entire criminal justice system.

 

What part of The Paperless Prosecutor Solution will be of greatest benefit to your team?

Feel like you need more FTEs? Maybe you need PPS!

This blog post was written by a previous PA office manager, who chooses to remain anonymous.

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As an office manager for a county’s Prosecuting Attorney’s (PA) Office, I was thrilled to have made the switch from paper files to using The Paperless Prosecutor Solution (PPS).

As law offices, law enforcement agencies, and courts increasingly make the switch to paperless processes, I wanted to share my experience in hopes that it may help you as you begin to think of making the switch to electronic files.  Changing software and well-established processes can be a headache if you aren’t prepared, but staying with your current, paper-heavy processes is much, much worse.  If you are thinking of switching to a new software for your PA office, but are too afraid to commit, please read on! My goal is to share a bit about the impact the Paperless Prosecutor Solution made to my office, and my confidence in knowing it will do the same for yours.

More Cases, Less Staff?  Could it Be True?

The first step in trying to figure out what kind of software you may need is making a strong effort to honestly identify the problems your office faces.  I can guarantee almost every county employee in every country would say “we don’t have enough people!” And I believe you.  When you’re preparing for a new software, it’s important to think about how a lack of staff could affect that, and where you could legitimately find some savings.  Software won’t replace the people you do have, but it will help all of them become much more efficient at the tasks they are performing.  After our own implementation, we were able to identify some key areas where the new software was making an immediate impact, which included: immediate availability of files, faster/simpler creation of charging documents and automatic docket preparation.

While these were all apparent right off the bat, the most obvious perk was cutting down the time we were spending searching for files.  We were a paper office, and everywhere I looked there used to be stacks of files.  Attorneys had their own individual filing systems in each of their offices, the secretaries had files on their desks and our victim rights advocates even had their own paper build-up. On top of that, we had in-office file storage for cases within the last three years, long-term file storage upstairs and downstairs, and no good way to track what was where. We used a cart to bring files to and from the courtroom, and the afternoon before a large docket always looked like that old gameshow where the contestants ran around the grocery store frantically looking for specific items.

When we stepped back and looked at how long the office spent on average just looking for files, we estimated it at two to three hours PER DAY, plus another four to six hours per week ordering and prepping the files for the docket. We began to imagine how much more we could do with that time.  It was clear to us that ImageSoft’s Paperless Prosecutor Solution would be able to solve all these problems and turn that wasted time into meaningful working time.

Implementation and Chocolate: Both Worth-While Investments

So away we went into implementation.  I was all in.  My PA was all in. We saw the long-term value and knew what a difference this would make. My chief? The attorneys?  The secretaries?  Well, they weren’t there quite yet. I’ll be honest, learning a new software and training all of your staff on it is not a cake walk.  Many of the staff in my office had been doing things “the way we’ve always done it” for 10, 15, 20 or even 30 years.  They were less than enthused about learning a new software, and truly convinced they just needed more people to help them.

If I can give you one piece of advice as you start your software journey, it is this: as soon as you can, try to get away from the “I can’t learn a new software, I have to do my ‘real job’” mentality.  Having well-trained staff who had a voice in the process and could help their co-workers during the rollout was invaluable.  Yes, there were many long days.  Yes, it took patience and lots of chocolate. And yes, it was worth it.

Then and Now: Who Would’ve Guessed?

We implemented the solution together and, looking back, the results have been more impactful than I ever really expected in the beginning.  Everyone in our office can access files at the same time and with only a few mouse clicks, which is so much better than the hours of stress and drama we used to endure every week.  Charges are filed on time every day and, best yet, the secretaries don’t have to read the attorney’s awful scribbles and try to figure out what counts, charges and enhancements they are looking for.  And get this: attorneys enter their court notes while they are in court! If you work in a legal office, you know this saves the secretaries literal hours every day from re-typing handwritten attorney notes into the case management system. Today, the secretaries use their new-found time to get ahead on their other work, which makes them, the attorneys, and clients much happier!

Discovery is now sent electronically, so no more wasted time frantically fighting the copy machine and then running over to the post-office to postmark discovery when the county mail had already been picked up for the day (yes, we did this, at least once per week).

Looking back at the years before we had the Paperless Prosecutor Solution, and looking at the office today, many things have changed. The staff count is not one them. It turns out, adding more people wasn’t the solution after all. It was always about creating efficiencies and leveraging smart technology to help us best serve our community. And, having worked in a paper-reliant office before, I wouldn’t do it any other way now.