New system to streamline Circuit Court case schedules

April 11, 2000|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Baltimore court officials put in place yesterday another key reform to streamline criminal cases in the beleaguered Circuit Court.

A new criminal case management system will give judges and court officials more control over the flow of the criminal docket. Cases will be scheduled for trial depending on the complexity.

A gun case, for example, will be set for trial within 60 days of a defendant's arraignment. But homicide cases take longer to prepare for and try, so they will be set for trial about 120 days after arraignment, according to a news release from the judicial system.

"Different types of cases need different time schedules in preparation for trial," Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell, chief of the criminal docket, said in a statement. "The scheduling of cases on different tracks will result in fewer postponements and speedier trial dates."

The new system, called Differentiated Case Management, has been used to organize the civil docket in city courts.

The management system will place strict deadlines for prosecutors and defense attorneys, such as requiring when discovery -- the process of exchanging information, names of witnesses and police reports in a case -- should be completed, the release says.

Judge Ellen M. Heller, administrative judge for the Circuit Court, said the new system will mean swifter justice.

It "will result in earlier and more reliable trial dates," Heller said in a statement. "It is one more innovation the Court has instituted this year in order to facilitate the processing of cases on the criminal docket."

Court officials have been working to reform the system since last year when the dismissal of murder charges against four men brought to light chronic trial delays in the system where cases had taken four years to go to trial.

Now, a stricter postponement policy is in place and courts have cut in half the number of defendants awaiting trial, the release says.

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