Tech Enhances Warrant Process in St. Johns County, Fla.

New technologies, including electronic warrants and remote first court appearances during holidays and weekends, have eliminated a sizable chunk of paperwork for the judges in St. Johns County, Fla.

by / November 18, 2019

Judges in the understaffed justice system of St. Johns County, Fla., have felt relief since the introduction of an electronic warrant system last month. 

The e-warrant system eliminates the need for police officers to drive across the county, which has a population of more than 200,000, for judges’ signatures on paper warrants. As reported by the St. Augustine Record, Circuit Judge Howard Maltz said the method of meeting judges for signatures has been practiced for 200 years and sometimes results in an officer having to come to a judge’s home. 

“Most people do not realize that there is a judge working somewhere every single day in the circuit and nationwide,” Maltz told the Record.

Now, as long as judges have a computer and a secure server, they can electronically sign and date statements needed for warrants under this new system. Not only is the process more convenient for judges, but it can be a difference-maker for detectives, who often lose precious time driving in St. Johns County.

“If we were working a case in Hastings and needed an after-hours judge and the judge lives up on the north end of the county, then it would take us about an hour-and-a-half round trip,” Lt. Jeremy Russell, an officer with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, told the Record. “This really speeds up our efficiency and being able to cut some of that drive time out.”

“Every minute counts with those things, if it's taking you two or three hours to get a warrant, your evidence is dissipating,” Maltz said to the newspaper. “Now it takes minutes with this system.”

Thus far, the e-warrant system has seen more than 20 successful warrants. More activity should be on the way: Only parts of the sheriff’s office currently have access to the system, and Russell told the Record that local municipal law enforcement departments would eventually learn the basics of the process. 

County judges, who take turns working holidays and weekends, have also become more efficient thanks to the Zoom platform, which allows initial court appearances to occur remotely via video. 

Costs have been minimal to establish these improvements. The server for the e-warrant system cost $3,000, and the six judges in St. Johns County only had to acquire a laptop appropriate for a virtual private network. 

“We have to keep up with modern times,” Maltz told the Record. “Everything is coming to you electronically now.”

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