Scheduling and processing large numbers of criminal cases in Superior Court are not simple tasks. Events must be scheduled well in advance, participants must make preparations for each
appearance, and multiple parties have to converge at the appointed place and time for a scheduled event to take place as planned. It is also clear that court time and other resources will allow for less
than five (5) percent of felony cases to actually be tried before a jury. Therefore, a large number of cases must be resolved in some manner short of trial. We are convinced that there are better ways
to operate this system than the ones we have been using.
Mecklenburg County has used an "administrative court" for arraignments for over twenty-five years. At times, this court has been very productive, resolving a high percentage of cases at an early stage
of the process. The use of a separate courtroom for arraignment certainly contributed to the ability to focus on cases well before they appear on a trial calendar. Plea agreements between the
prosecutor and defense counsel have been relied on in an effort to resolve cases at this stage of the process. Periodically, judges have held plea conferences in which they meet with both sides in
order to hear the facts of the case, to learn of any record of the defendant, and to inform counsel of the sentence to be imposed should the defendant plead guilty.
We have now revised the Criminal Case Management Plan (CCMP) in an effort to improve the way that we process criminal cases. The details of the new system are included in this Plan developed
by the District Attorney in consultation with the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge and after opportunity for comment by the Public Defender and members of the local bar.
Some of the objectives of the CCMP include:
- to follow fundamental caseflow management principles and best practices
- to establish logical, practical procedures for the processing of criminal cases
- to create a series of events with established tasks to be accomplished at each event
- to establish consistent expectations for participants in the court process
- to establish a system to hold participants accountable for non-compliance
- to resolve cases fairly at the earliest possible stage of the process
- to ensure cases calendared for trial are, in fact, for trial
- to bundle and resolve all cases related to a defendant or incident at one time
- to give priority to in-custody defendants at each event in the process
- to request additional trial time from the AOC to meet the corresponding need
For any system to work effectively, each integral party must constructively fulfill the responsibilities of their position. The District Attorney must make reasonable plea offers, defense counsel must weigh all factors and act in the best interest of his/her client, and the judge must give full consideration to any negotiated pleas and/or participate in plea conferences, where requested, to bring about resolution at the earliest stage in the proceedings.