To say North Carolina courts have taken the plunge into the digital age might seem a bit much to tech-savvy people used to doing most of their bill-paying and other document transactions online.
But somewhat like a swimmer easing knee-deep into the ocean after first dipping a toe in the water, the state court system is immersing itself deeper and deeper into the rising tide of online court programs.
This week, Marion Warren, director of the state Administrative Office of the Courts, announced the statewide roll-out of the Electronic Compliance and Dismissal system, or ECAD, through which people can request dismissal of certain kinds of traffic tickets online and skip long lines at the courthouse.
The system, which is integrated with the state Division of Motor Vehicles, makes it possible for people cited with certain violations to show their compliance without going to court. The violations include expired registrations or inadequate inspection records, driving without a license, failing to have a license in the car or using an expired license.
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Not only can people request dismissal of the charges and check the status of their case online, district attorneys and their staffs can review the cases and approve or deny them through the same system. Clerks of the courts also will be able to view cases dismissed through ECAD.
“Online dismissals and services are changing the way the public does business with our courts,” Warren said in a statement. “This modern court technology is more efficient and convenient to process a significant portion of traffic cases online and not have to stand in line at the courthouse.”
In Wake County, where a pilot program has been tested since May, District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said that in addition to streamlining the process for the public, the system means prosecutors have to spend less time in the courtroom handling the citations and can devote their attention to other matters.
In 2015, more than 220,000 cases that would have been eligible to be considered through ECAD were dismissed in North Carolina courtrooms.
Mark Martin, chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, made it a goal in 2015 to bring state courts into a new technological age. North Carolina had once been a leader in technology. In 1996, the state Supreme Court became the first in the country to start an e-filing program in which lawyers could file documents electronically.
During the past two decades, though, other states began to surpass North Carolina and switched to e-filing and paperless docket and document management systems for financial reasons. As the prices for new computer systems dropped in the 2000s, states that had balked at the start-up costs began moving into the digital age and reporting savings.
To pay for the transitions, some states have relied on legislatures for start-up and operating costs. Others have turned to public-private partnerships in which vendors collect transaction charges and credit card fees from users.
The new ECAD program in North Carolina was developed over eight months with $567,236 in state money. After the launch in Wake County, it was tested in Ashe, Allegheny, Buncombe, Guilford, Wilkes and Yadkin counties. The statewide roll-out was Monday.
In May, the courts launched a statewide online program through which probation-related costs, fines and fees can be paid online, too.