December 2014Volume 102Number 12Page 566

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E-filing comes to criminal court

Effective last September, the Illinois Supreme Court expanded its electronic filing standards to include criminal and traffic cases.

The Illinois Supreme Court recently expanded its electronic filing standards to include e-filing in criminal and traffic cases. Before the amendments, which took effect September 16 but have not yet been implemented by the county courts, electronic filing was only available in civil cases. Ideally, expanding e-filing to criminal matters will increase efficiency in the courts while lowering costs.

Batch files

Three changes to the electronic filing standards are particularly noteworthy. First, amended paragraph 9(f) provides that documents filed by pro se litigants will be reviewed for acceptance by the court before being rejected by the clerk's office for failure to comply with formatting requirements. Paragraph 9(f) does not specifically limit this requirement to criminal filings, and thus could benefit pro se litigants in civil matters.

Also, multiple traffic (or other) citations can be filed in one transaction under the amended rules. This batch file can be sent directly from the law enforcement agency that issued the citations. Coupled with the provision that exempts partner agencies (state's attorney, public defender, attorney general, and law enforcement) from paying filing or vendor fees, this change could result in significant cost savings. It also allows paper citations not to be filed with the clerk's office.

Finally, the new e-filing standards provide for electronic service of documents on attorneys of record in a criminal matter. Pro se litigants must still be served via traditional means, though they can waive this requirement.

Cook County's interactive order system

According to Deborah White, an attorney with the Cook County Public Defender's Office, Cook County uses an e-filing-like system it calls IOS - the interactive order system. Currently, paper call sheets are filled out by judges. The clerks then enter that information into the system.

As the IOS is expanded, judges will complete all orders on a computer. Those orders will then be verified by the clerk. As the IOS system develops, it will include all orders entered in criminal proceedings, such as fines, fees, and costs orders.

The system will simplify calculations for time spent in custody and deduct that from a longer sentence. It will also automate and streamline the process for electronic monitoring, probation, and treatment alternatives.

White notes that full-blown e-filing may come after the perfection of the IOS rollout.

An 11:59 deadline

Given that no counties have yet implemented e-filing in criminal cases, it is impossible to know how effective it will be. However, Chicago-based criminal defense attorney Ava George Stewart says e-filing in criminal cases could solve several problems that defense attorneys face in their day-to-day practices.

For example, e-filing would allow lawyers to file time-sensitive motions at multiple geographically-distant courthouses in one day. In many instances, a client may hire an attorney on the eve of a sensitive deadline - the 29th day of a 30-day window to file a notice of appeal, for example. E-filing would assist with the time crunch, Stewart notes.

In addition to notices of appeal, motions to vacate judgments and motions for substitution of judge have specific, time-sensitive deadlines. The ability to file electronically would assist greatly with ensuring the timeliness of filings.

E-filing could also help lawyers preserve evidence. Stewart says that for DUI trials, the preservation of evidence is highly important. The contents of a video might contradict the arresting officer's testimony. The video might show that the suspect was not driving erratically prior to being pulled over. Even audio recordings can indicate whether the suspect's speech was slurred. Without these key pieces of evidence, defending a case can be more difficult.

Stewart notes that most municipalities don't have a directive to preserve evidence when an arrest is made. In many situations, a video or audio recording of an arrest may only be preserved for 30 days, after which the recording media is reused. This means that many criminal defense cases are races against the clock - the first court date after an arrest may be more than 30 days from the date of the arrest.

Clients often wait to retain counsel. This is problematic, as Stewart points out, because the criminal courts do not have the equivalent of an emergency motion. Some courthouses still require a three-day notice period for motions. Ensuring the timeliness of the filing is a great benefit of the e-filing system, particularly if local rules allow attorneys to file documents up to 11:59 PM. The ability to file after the courthouse closes can be invaluable.

For more about the e-filing program, visit the Illinois Supreme Court's website.

Matthew Hector is a senior associate at Sulaiman Law Group, Ltd.

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