Early resolution plan in works to move criminal justice system along

From: Deseret News

By Emiley Morgan, Dec 22nd 2010

SALT LAKE CITY — An ambitious plan to streamline the criminal justice process by eliminating as many as 50 percent of felony cases within the first 30 days after they are filed is set to launch in February.

The “aggressive” initiative known as Early Case Resolution is meant to not only streamline the court process and lead to quicker resolutions but also free up more jail space and lower recidivism rates.

“We need something concrete,” 3rd District Presiding Judge Robert Hilder said. “We need something that will really make a difference.”

Hilder — one of two judges who have been working to implement the system for close to two years — said that now it is not uncommon to sit in a hearing for as many as three hours only to have the hearing continued to a later date. Roll call hearings, scheduling and status conferences can be continued several times.
“We have a long history of those things happening not just once or twice, but five, 10, 15 times with no movement forward,” he said.

It was frustration with this process that led current District Attorney Lohra Miler and the Salt Lake City Council to consider this model, Hilder said.

“We’re trying to avoid hearings that do not advance a case,” Hilder said. “We want hearings that are meaningful. This will free up more time management for more complex cases.”

For that to happen, there has to be cooperation from those at all levels, Salt Lake City prosecutor Sim Gill said. Gill will take over as district attorney in January. In addition to prosecutors, he said law enforcement agencies, defense attorneys, probation and parole officers and those in the Salt Lake County 3rd District Court are on-board.

“This is a collaborative effort of multiple stakeholders who are being brought together under a common model, because they all have a role to play in it,” Gill said. “This model works on the premise that everybody, every stakeholder, has something to gain.”

Gill said the project targets those defendants who attempt to “fatigue” the system in hopes of getting a better deal and aims to eliminate the bottleneck that is created by numerous continuations of hearings. It should also make interactions with defendants more valuable.

“This is not just about an efficient process,” Hilder said. “It’s a very different way of doing business. It’s about early resolutions where people take responsibility. It’s about their performance on probation, a sentence that is tailored … lesser jail or no jail and probation. … People are more likely to succeed.”

He said similar models are currently in place in Florida, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and California, but Salt Lake County would be the largest criminal court in the country to undertake the task. The closest in size, in Sonoma County, Calif., has seen noticeable results, Hilder said.

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