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Minnesota’s Court System Is Going Paperless

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota’s court system is going paperless.

Twenty counties have switched to an electronic system for filing criminal complaints, called eCharging. State and local officials told Minnesota Public Radio it has improved efficiency and reduced mistakes in court records.

Prosecutors have traditionally sent paper copies of complaints to their clerk of court offices, where clerks would log them into a computer database. The documents now arrive electronically, which eliminates multiple data entry steps and saves a clerk about 15 minutes per complaint.

MPR said state officials aim to use eCharging in all counties by late 2014. The ultimate goal is for Minnesota’s judicial system to be paperless from the police squad car to the judge’s bench.

Jan Cossette, Clay County’s court administrator, said the new system takes some pressure off court staff.

“We are able to process things a little bit slower and take our time so we don’t have as many mistakes,” she said.

It also saves time for law enforcement officers.

Moorhead Police Lt. Tory Jacobson would need to interrupt what he was doing and walk over to the county prosecutor’s office to review and sign criminal complaints. Afterward, he’d walk the complaint to court and wait for a judge to sign it. Now Jacobson checks the complaint on his computer and signs it using a fingerprint. It then goes to the court computer, where a judge can review the complaint and sign it electronically.

“Things are getting before a judge quicker, much quicker,” Jacobson said. “Each person used to have their own personal slowdowns based on what they were doing for the day.”

The increased efficiency is especially noticeable for officers in rural areas, said Tom Miller, eCharging project manager for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Miller said one small-town police chief signed a criminal complaint in the time it would take to walk to his car.

“He would have a 10-mile drive to get to the county seat to pick up the complaint from the prosecutor,” Miller said. “He doesn’t have to do that anymore so it’s a significant time savings for officers.”

Carver County estimates eCharging will save it $100,000 a year in staff time and paper costs.

The state has spent about $3.5 million on developing eCharging so far. Most of the cost involves designing computer programs to let the police department software, prosecutors’ office software and the court computers smoothly share information with each other, instead of several people having to enter the same data into different programs.

“There’s some significant problems in Minnesota with when data gets entered into different systems. Typos and errors make it difficult to figure out (how) all these different cases are linked,” he said. “So having the data automatically populate can reduce the problems caused by duplicate data entry, and it’s also more efficient for the office staff.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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