The dispensation of judicial services in the US and particularly in the state of Texas has been faced by a myriad of problems. Most of these problems are caused by internal redundancies that have been in existence for decades. These have hindered efficient judicial services to the citizens and consequently reduced trust in the judiciary. This court management proposal looks at ways through which the state can ensure an improved judicial process and get rid of the backlog and delay characteristic of the courts. The paper suggests that the Victim Offender Mediation program be instituted to deal with less severe cases, leaving the courts to deal with criminal cases.
Key Words: Victim Offender Mediation Program
Court Management Policy Proposal
It cannot go unnoticed that courts in the US, like other countries in the world, have faced a number of different challenges over the years (Adams, 2003). Delayed services and hence delayed justice has been a major reason for residents of the US losing faith in their court system (Hess, Orthmann & LaDue, 2011). People feel that they cannot get justice done in the court systems. Some of the problems facing the US court system include: derisory legal representation, case tempering and jamming, inadequate financing, poor civil and property registries, lack of an alternative way of resolving disputes and case backlogs, to say the least.
Records have shown an increase in crime rates around the US especially in the city streets. As a result, the practice of plea-bargaining has escalated. Plea-bargaining rarely helps the suspect. It instills fear and sometimes leads to the conviction of the wrong person. In other cases where the suspect is found guilty of the crime, the sentence is usually double the original plea-bargain (Patterson & Schulze, 2005).
There is a problem with the judicial system been attached with the other arms of government. Complete detachment would allow the independence of the judicial system and consequently the administration of justice to the public. The judicial system is still dependent on the other arms of government particularly when it comes to their finances. Under the correct rule of law, the court system should serve all citizens equal without fear or favor of any party regardless of their political, social and economic standing (Baum, 2012). This is however been compromised by continuous political interference.
Accumulation and backlog of countless cases have been characteristic of many US courts of appeal. These pending cases are connected to various people, some of whom are in prison; thus causing judicial delay. For the confidence in the court system to be boosted, citizens need to fully trust the system. To ensure this happens, there is need for comparable judicial measures that allow equal access to the court system for all citizens.
Judicial reforms are required to reduce the backlogs and delays in the US court systems. There is a need for a pathological paradigm shift, so to say (R & Treblicock, 2008). One way to reduce the congestion is to decentralize the court administration system and so reduce the time taken by judges and magistrates to travel to acquire materials necessary to the court system as well as the citizens (Jillson, C, 2009).
Judges are the pillars of the judicial system (Fisher, & Lab, 2010). Freeing up judges by decentralizing the administration of the court system will be instrumental in judicial reforms. Time earned from the delegation of duties will provide the judges with time to work on actual cases and in the process reduce the backlog of cases waiting to be heard and dealt with. It should however be noted that judges will still have a lot to do even with the delegation because some tasks can only be done by them. My proposal is that delegation of routine duties to subordinates, law students and clerks should be prioritized to free up judges for duty.
It can be difficult for judges to trust the work of managers and administrators. For a long time these positions were not present. However, it is important for judges to understand the role of these professionals. Managers and administrators can help judges perform their duties with ease.
There is an urgent need for the courts in the US to be institutionalized. Managing the court system as an organization would help the process go along easier and improve efficiency (Cronkhite, 2007). It is noted that a lot of administrators in the judicial system have been long serving professionals who have risen up the ranks over the years to the top. While the commitment befits the reward of higher ranks, the practice is disadvantageous to the court system. Most of the administrators lack sufficient skills to run an intricate organization such as the judicial system.
Judges being recycled for the top judicial position in the judicial system has not been a beneficial system (Robinson, 2011). A breakdown in rank in terms of age has been observed. Law students should be trained in leadership and management of legal institutions so as to allow for a new generation of judges and legal professionals with the skill to manage and administer the judicial process..
Substitute Conflict Resolution
The litigious nature of the US society has been in part responsible for the congestion of the court system. Apart from criminal cases, which require government intervention by law, all other cases can be settled outside the court system (Administrative Conference of the United States, 1999). An increased use of alternative but legal ways of settling dispute would help decongest the courts greatly. A campaign to educate citizens of the different ways of conflict resolution would be instrumental in improving the speed of judicial administration in criminal cases (Joycelyn, 2011).
Victim Offender Mediation Program
Victim Offender Mediation (VOM) is an alternative to usual judicial procedures. It requires an offender to accept the mistakes made. It is somewhat similar to plea-bargaining, only that while plea-bargaining requires a community mediation process, VOM does not (Brienza, 2005). A plea-bargain requires the accused to confess to the crimes committed on the condition that the prosecutor advices the court of a lower sentence than advocated for in the penal code (Robinson, 2011). VOM would substantially reduce the costs of administering justice while decongesting the system.
VOM should not be applied in cases that involve under age offenders. They are more likely to confess for crimes they may not have committed, just to get out of their situation (Hess, Orthmann & LaDue, 2011). Comparing costs of establishing new courts and hiring more judges and other staff with the costs incurred in VOM, the VOM seems the most appropriate as it reduces time and money spent trying to get to a verdict.
VOM to Reduce Case Backlog
The VOM program is very effective in reducing the backlog in the judicial system. If the number of offenders confessing their crimes went up, they would not have to go through the usual judicial system (Umbreit, 2000). The backlog in the judicial system is caused by postponing of many cases after the initial hearing. After that initial hearing, if the judge has to make an appointment on a later date for the case. When these cases increase, the judge makes appointments as far as six months after the first hearing. This causes the backlog. If a person confesses, they are sentenced on the same day (Umbreit, 2009). This is a large difference in terms of time spent.
Comparing VOM Track Record Program
Out of 1298 juvenile offenders surveyed, 619 of them went through VOM while 679 did not. It was noted in the survey that more those who went through trial became repeat offenders than those who had confessed (Nugent et al, 1999). It should be noted that the people who confess seem to be remorseful of their mistakes and crimes. Those who don’t are likely to commit more crimes as a result of no remorse for their mistakes (Champion, 2009).
Merits of the VOM to the Offender and the Community
There is a sense of closure especially with the victims of crimes when the offender confesses and accepts his or her crime (Larry, et al, 2006). After a crime is committed, victims often feel traumatized and are usually afraid that the crime might be committed again on them. VOM program involves the victims in the process of justice administration, thus brings closure and often reeds off any fear of repeated attacks.
Family cases are often very sensitive to handle. They have complications and are ambiguous to the judicial system, particularly when they involve children. They therefore slow down the judicial process. Even though the Texas judicial system has a family court system that deals with such issues, there is still congestion caused by an increased number of family disputes being brought to the courts (Cordon & Quarles, 2008). If most family disputes were solved outside the judicial system through mediation, coming up with common agreement, there would be less cases in the system (Larry, T et al, 2006). Furthermore, reduced number of family and domestic disputes prosecuted in the courts would allow resources to be focused on the bigger issues such as criminal cases.
There is an obvious need for an adjustment in the judicial system. The problems that have been facing the Texas state judicial system for long require more attention than have been given in the past. New solutions are required to reduce the workload on the judicial system; solutions such as the VOM program. Allocating less severe cases to VOM reduces the workload on the judges, leaving them ample time to execute justice on other cases.
Implementation of suggestions and strategies highlighted here will result in positive outcome in the judicial system. Better conflict resolution methods such as the VOM program ought to be implemented to reduce what the courts have to deal with. For the courts, there is a need for institutionalization that would lead to a better management system to increase efficiency in the courts. It has been noted here that most of these strategies require substantial finances. However, looking at future projections, it would be cheaper to invest in the VOM than to continue in the current trends that will lead to surmountable levels of congestion and delay in the courts.
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