Friday, June 7, 2013

eCitation – Now!

Courts are greatly benefiting from the adoption of eCitation systems by law enforcement.

Data capture at the source has always been an automation rule from the beginning as it has been statistically shown to greatly reduce errors.  In turn, subsequent re-entry of data introduces up to 10% errors into a data system.  So the advent and implementation of eCitation systems is very significant for the courts so that one vendor can even claim a 98% data accuracy rate.

eCitation systems are implemented as either in-car mobile data terminals or are handheld.  It is the handheld systems that I will write about in this article as they have more flexibility and the potential to reduce the implementation costs that are one factor holding back adoption.

But before getting into the technical details, let’s hear from a small court in Pratt, Kansas that has benefited from adoption of an eCitation system.  According to an article on the subject posted by The Pratt Tribune on March 16, 2013:
“Pratt, Kan.  — Point and click has replaced hand entry for traffic citations and district court clerks around the state love it. 
"It's great. It's saving us a lot of time. We don't have to enter all the information from the ticket, we just pull it over and it syncs with our system," said Ann McNett, Chief clerk for the 30th Judicial District out of Barber County who was visiting the Pratt County District Court.”
The COSCA/NACM Joint Technology Committee paper on E-Citation in 2010 studied systems in Missouri, Iowa, and Utah and found:

  • Cost savings from reduced (or eliminated) data entry
  • Fewer data errors and increased accuracy due to capture of information once at the point of entry
  • Reduction of storage needed for paper citations
  • Ease of access for judges and staff to citations for court processing

Additional benefits were identified in a paper posted at the University of Arizona including the fact that all citations were “totally legible”, there was “no backlog of tickets to enter”, and the ability for the systems to notify law enforcement officers of previous citations thus allowing proper enforcement action to be triggered.

eCitation benefits from standards work  that was done several years ago (2005/6) by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) to create the machine readable PDF417 barcode standard that is placed on the reverse side of drivers license cards.  The 2-D barcode contains all of the data elements (and more) displayed on the front of the license.  AAMVA has a website on all things driver license and identification at:

With this standard in place, vendors in turn were able to create software that worked with scanners to read the data.  At first these scanners were often connected to the in-car laptop/mobile data terminals.  But now there are many handheld devices available.  Some (but not all) handheld solution vendors include:

The vendors point out that additional data such as officer name and ID, agency, and even court contact information can be stored in the unity and automatically applied.  And, very importantly, there is the ability to capture the GPS coordinates of the unit when the citation is created.

This feature (and one other, the ability to take a picture) may help to solve one of the most intractable problems that many courts have; the need to create a paper copy of a citation to capture the accused person’s signature.  Now I did some research into this and not all states require a signature.  Law enforcement officers in those states simply print a copy of the citation and hand it to the person being cited.

But some states require the signature as a “promise to appear”.  If the person being cited refuses to sign they are subject to arrest. But is this really legal?  In this UCLA Law Journal article (PDF) by the 9th Federal Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski reports that this requirement didn’t hold (starting at page 1298).  The finding is now law in that circuit.

Beyond that, what is the real purpose of this “promise”?  Many other summons/notifications do not require signatures.  And if proof is needed that the officer and person were at a particular place and time, the eCitation GPS function, and a picture of the person taken by the same device will serve as much better evidence.

So isn’t this just one more legal anachronism that needs to pass into history?  Your thoughts can be shared in the comment section below.

Please note that the benefit to the court of eCitation collapses if the citation is in turn printed in the clerk's office to process and store the E-filed data on paper.  Please, please don't do this.

Last, it is clear that the cost of these systems has been a problem.  Is it because most of the vendors (Saltus Technologies is the exception) do not seem to have provided their solutions on potentially lower cost tablet or smart phones operating systems?  Also purchasing devices in small numbers seems to be a problem as quantity discounts do not apply.  So some jurisdictions have been banding together to purchase as a collaborative effort.  Do you have a solution?

BTW, you can select “anonymous” in the drop down box if you don’t want your name to appear with the comment.

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