The Florida Bar

Florida Bar News

Electronic arrest forms on tap for the courts

Senior Editor Top Stories

FCTC runs a test, CJJIS writing a uniform arrest affidavit

FCTCA test is underway that could lead to police booking and arrest reports being submitted into court records electronically. At the same time, court officials are coordinating with a legislative effort to develop a uniform statewide arrest affidavit.

Seventeenth Circuit Judge Martin Bidwill reported on those efforts at the recent meeting of the Florida Courts Technology Commission.

Bidwill, who chairs the FCTC’s Criminal Case Initiation Workgroup, said a test website operated by Seminole County Clerk of Court Grant Maloy’s office has been set up to practice moving data from law enforcement into court files. The goal is to develop an electronic system to replace paper arrest and booking reports.

“What we had to have was a uniform set of data elements that everyone could build on so all of these stakeholders in the criminal justice system can communicate with each other and move the data through the process,” Bidwill said.

When police make an arrest now, they type up a probable cause affidavit and bring it to the jail. Jail personnel then load that data into the booking report and on first appearance the judge is given paper copies of the arrest affidavit and the booking sheet.

Bidwill said the workgroup surveyed sheriffs’ offices, including their jail operations, and worked with the clerks to develop a uniform set of data points, which has resulted in the creation of a test website in Seminole County where police and court officials can practice entering and accessing data.

Tony Landry, chief information officer for Maloy’s office, said the booking test site is now up and running and open to anyone who wants to use it.

Users go on the site, download a test document, add the necessary information — in this case booking desk data and the arrest affidavit.

It’s submitted to the website that provides visual verification on whether the information was correctly entered, Landry said.

Now, “the target audience really isn’t the police, the target is the jail. This is a process that would happen during or immediately after booking,” he said. “It’s possible that state attorneys might want to use it, but most of the traffic will be between the jail and the clerk of court.. . .

“We’re hoping for the entire booking packet to come over electronically, not just the arrest affidavit,” Landry said. “Where that will make the biggest difference is in first appearances. Some of the jurisdictions that do video first appearances, that will make a big deal to their workflow to be able to have those documents available from the first moment the person is booked into jail.”

Other potential beneficiaries include state attorney and public defender offices. As an example, Landry said, if assistant public defenders can automatically be assigned as needed, “the public defender will be able to walk into the courtroom at first appearance having seen the complaint and all of the papers. And of course, the state attorney, too.”

When the system has been sufficiently tested, it will go live for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.

Landry said Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma and his jail staff have been very receptive to the concept and “Seminole is at a point where we’re ready to do it and we would benefit from it.”

Uniform Arrest Affidavit

While the FCTC and Bidwill’s workgroup have been focusing on their effort, the Legislature earlier this year passed legislation to bring transparency to criminal justice data to allow better analysis of the criminal justice system.

As part of that, the legislation charged the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Information System Council (CJJIS) with creating a uniform arrest affidavit that could be used by any state or local law enforcement entity. The deadline for completing that task is November 1.

Martin County Clerk Carolyn Timmann, who chairs CJJIS, said developing the uniform arrest affidavit is part of its overall charge of working with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to develop rules and policies for exchanging and storing information for the state’s Criminal Justice Information System.

The overall goal is to see that judges have information they need to handle cases, FLDE has information it needs for case history, local law enforcement has information it needs for investigations, clerks get information they need for court files, and the Legislature obtains data it needs to evaluate the performance of the criminal justice system, she said.

Timmann said CJJIS found the FCTC workgroup has already done much of the work needed for the uniform affidavit.

“It’s a huge project and everyone is looking at it and trying to figure where things overlap or overlay so we can avoid duplication,” she said. “They’ve done really extensive work.”

Bidwill noted, “There’s a tremendous amount of disparity statewide in the way these criminal cases are handled at the beginning. What we’re trying to do is come up with a system and develop standards on which everyone can develop their system and provide for efficiency and transparency.”