The DA’s Web site has a page that allows victims and witnesses, accessing with a criminal court case number, to get updated information about defendants in a criminal case and upcoming court dates.
“The age of uncertainty regarding upcoming court dates for the next proceeding is over,” said District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua. “In this technology era, we felt it was time that victims and witnesses of crime had immediate information accessible by a keystroke.”
When there’s a rescheduled court date, the DA’s office still puts out telephone calls to the victims and witnesses. But sometimes that can be as many as 50 people and the calls might stretch out over a couple of days.
Since initiating the easy Web access in early September, DA’s office callers have encountered a couple of witnesses who said, “Thank you, we already saw that online,” said Diana Gomez, assistant district attorney.
“It’s a great tool,” Gomez said.
It saves DA’s office time for the victims and witnesses who, suffering anxiety, sometimes call in multiple times to check dates and details. Some used to check in late in the evening to leave a message to call in the morning. Now they can log into the Web site after hours and sometimes alleviate their worries immediately.
The information they can access is all public, Gomez said. The Web page puts it conveniently in one place: how many defendants in a case; which defendants are in custody; which defendant faces which charge; has an initial charge against a defendant been dismissed; whether a trial has been scheduled; when and where the trial is.
The victims and witnesses can also access the information via a District Attorney Case Number or a Police Report Number.
It helped move the innovation along that Sonoma County has a good Information Systems Department with a system well coordinated among various departments, said Lopez.
The Web page portal conforms with the Victims Bills of Rights Act of 2008 (“Marsy’s Law”), which mandates that victims of crimes are allowed to have reasonable notice of all public proceedings, upon request, regarding their cases.
The Sonoma Web portal should be an item of interest for victims programs elsewhere.
“It might be something to look at in the future,” said Jamie Johnson, Victim Services Division Manager in the Napa County District Attorney’s Office. “I don’t think we’ve had any real issues with getting changes of dates to our victims … We pull the court calendars and then we contact the victims. It’s not automated. We still call the victims and we like the personal contact.”
Johnson said the Victim Services Division is working with county computer operators in a redesign of the county’s Internet software system.
The division just came under the jurisdiction of the District Attorney’s Office July 1.
Before that, the program was run by a nonprofit agency, the Volunteer Center of Napa Valley.
Much research went into that transition. Johnson said that in California there are 42 victims services programs under the jurisdiction of the district attorney, 10 run by the probation department, and five operated by community nonprofit agencies.