SALT LAKE COUNTY -- Resolving criminal cases more quickly--that's the goal of a new program starting up in Salt Lake County next year. It's called Early Case Resolution.
There is a mix of nervousness and high hopes for Early Case Resolution. The idea is to move people charged with crimes through the system much, much quicker, and hopefully with a better outcome. The program is designed to kick in as quickly as possible after someone is arrested and charged.
Screened on a case-by-case basis, some felonies or class 'A' misdemeanors would qualify for Early Case Resolution. The idea is to speed up the plea bargain process, including treatment, therapy and accountability in the deal.
Incoming Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill describes the system as "aggressively pushing the case to adjudication."
"What we want to do is create systemic integrity. We want everyone to know that the case is not going to get better, the offers are not going to get sweeter later in the process," he said.
Anyone familiar with the court system knows that on arraignment days, courtrooms can be packed, sometimes to the point of chaos. The Early Case Resolution program would change the whole culture of the criminal justice system and relieve pressure at that early point.
Third District Court Judge Robert Hilder says it's time to take on the underlying issues behind the packed courtrooms and growing caseload.
"It's about early resolution, where people take accountability. When we have better accountability we get better results on probation. It's about sentences that are more tailored to the crime and evidence-based sentencing," he said.
The system is getting a mixed reaction from defense attorneys. Some question whether it will work. The system would devote two judges to it full time, would eliminate "roll call" hearings, and require each case be handled in person.
There is $731,000 of federal stimulus money devoted to getting it rolling in Salt Lake County. There's still a lot of work to be done, but the judge says it's going into effect February 7th.
Out-going District Attorney Lohra Miller actually got the ball rolling on Early Case Resolution.