This article is an edited excerpt from "Selected Essays, A Report of the National Conference on Legal Information Issues," to be published this year.

By Hon. George Nicholson

and Jeffery A. Hogge, esq.

Special to Government Technology

In 1952, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson described the proper relationship between the branches of government: "While the Constitution diffuses power the better to secure liberty, it also contemplates that practice will integrate the dispersed powers into a workable government. It enjoins upon its branches separateness but interdependence, autonomy but reciprocity."

This model of interbranch cooperation extolled by Justice Jackson applies directly to the coordination needed among the three governmental branches to improve the criminal justice system. It also applies to the coordination needed inside the judicial branch by those who need to be kept separate to some extent, such as the prosecutor and public defender.

Participants in the criminal justice system must energetically coordinate their efforts to enhance the enterprise while retaining the spirit of the separation of powers and the discrete functions within criminal justice. The technology is here to do this, and criminal justice cannot responsibly ignore it.


Criminal justice involves a wide range of professional participants, from lawmakers to law enforcers, prosecutors and defenders to tribunals and correctional agencies. For decades, even centuries these criminal justice participants have worked mostly independently, sharing information by the printed page and face-to-face or voice-to-voice encounters.

As the world pulls into the fast lane of the Information Age, criminal justice has fallen behind dramatically. What was once a workable system is becoming increasingly unworkable as public safety falters, civil rights diminish, and public trust in criminal justice wanes.

It is not enough to shovel faster. Criminal justice must enter the Information Age by incorporating technology as a tool to make the system run efficiently and effectively. This will happen only when the participants make an enthusiastic common cause to fully integrate the information processes involved in criminal justice while maintaining independence for parts which must remain separate.

While all participants in criminal justice use technology to some extent, rarely is there planning or cooperation to integrate their various applications. Invisible but real barriers prevent the coordinated use of technology to promote the flow and utility of information between the participants. Removing these barriers will improve criminal justice overall by increasing efficiency and effectiveness and reducing costs.

Make no mistake -- there are valid boundaries among criminal justice participants established by constitution and statute. These relate primarily to the division of power among the branches -- legislative, executive and judicial -- and the preservation of the adversarial system. These divisions are important for protecting delegated authority and preserving the separation of powers. Thus, it is appropriate for these boundaries to reflect the legally mandated functions of the entities. Nevertheless, these boundaries should not retard or prevent the flow of information and the sharing of technology, except as necessary.


It doesn't take a brilliant futurist to know criminal justice will eventually be paperless. All documents will be created, filed, stored and retrieved electronically. Exhibits will be imaged. The benefits of this paperless trend are many: dramatically lower costs, time savings, and improvements in storage, retrieval, portability and access, to name a few. Despite these benefits, however, the participants in criminal justice cling to their paper products.

Technology in criminal justice is better used sooner than later, and integrated rather than haphazard. To achieve this better use, the leaders and policymakers in criminal justice must be convinced of technology's utility and cost-effectiveness and cooperate in its adoption.

Generally, the computer literate need not be convinced of the value of technology and its potential benefit to criminal justice. However,

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