A small percentage of lousy drivers make the roads dangerous for everyone else.

In Michigan, drivers with suspended licenses kill an average of 130 drivers per year, according to a Detroit News analysis.

Finding these drivers and keeping them off the road is not easy, but there is hope. A Michigan computer system linking the state courts' 41 case management systems could aid the process.

The intent of the Judicial Network Project is to improve the criminal history reporting process by connecting case management systems -- most of which are run by local municipalities or counties -- and eliminate archaic paper processes.

The project uses federal grant funds and money from the State Judicial Technology Innovation Fund to develop a statewide judicial network that uses the local government extranet telecommunication services from Michigan's Department of Information Technology.

"Now, because there are different systems in different locations, a judge in one county or court may not know that the person before him also has a pending traffic ticket elsewhere," said Marcus Dobek, director of judicial information systems for the Michigan Supreme Court. "There has been truly no connectivity with these remote entities within the state."

In 2001, the tragic case of a 27-year-old Michigan driver who ran a red light and killed an elderly man illustrated the importance of such connectivity. After the crash, the driver had two other major incidents before being convicted of manslaughter in the elderly driver's death. He was sentenced to one year in jail, and his driving privilege was revoked until 2006.

When he got out of jail, he applied for -- and received -- a driver's license. The Michigan Department of State, the agency responsible for issuing drivers' licenses and ID cards, wasn't aware of the sentence.

"The Judicial Network Project will impact a lot of aspects of criminal history information," said Michigan Chief Justice Maura D. Corrigan. "It's going to let the courts, the secretary of state and the Michigan State Police communicate more effectively what the dockets are throughout the state."

Corrigan said there are 241 trial courts in the state, 11 of which still lack computers. The number of trial courts without computers is down from a couple of years ago, and the state hopes all counties will be connected to the judicial network by the end of 2004.

Corrigan said the court previously transmitted conviction data to the Secretary of State's Office by paper or magnetic tape.

"Once a week the court would take the conviction data and mail it to the secretary of state, and that's how we were telling them X drunk driver was convicted on X date," she said. "If that driver got on the road and got arrested somewhere else on a drunk driving charge, they wouldn't know about the recent conviction, because it was making its pokey way onto the secretary's computer."

Growing Network

The project's first phase provided computer equipment and software to circuit and probate courts in the 25 largest counties and two smaller counties. This simplified electronic reporting of adult and juvenile felony criminal case dispositions to the Michigan State Police repository. Implementation covered 86 percent of the state's criminal caseload.

Subsequent implementations provided hardware and software for most courts -- circuit, district, probate -- and brought the number of linked counties to 35 of the state's 83. Dobek said the courts are taking advantage of an existing infrastructure -- put in place by the Department of Management and Budget -- for law enforcement and other functions of government.

"What we're doing with the [Judicial] Network Project is leveraging that connectivity to bring the courts into the state's network," Dobek said. "Now that we have this connectivity, we're looking at [connecting] a whole host of applications that were paper or

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor