Monday marked the start of the First Judicial District’s Criminal Electronic Filing System pilot program, in which attorneys could, for the first time in Philadelphia at least, file court documents relating to criminal matters on the website for the city’s court system.
Electronic filing has been the norm now on the civil end of things for quite some time, but this week’s change serves as the first time lawyers could electronically file legal papers such as search and arrest warrant applications, criminal complaints, bills of information, grand jury materials, and those legal papers that must be filed under seal.
The pilot program was announced back in early February by the state Supreme Court, which came in the form of a general court rules change.
The pilot program will cover the Criminal Trial Division of Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas, as well as Philadelphia Municipal Court’s Criminal Section.
Lawyers who look to participate in the program have been instructed to establish an account, apply for a username and password, and select a personal identification number, or PIN, in order to be set up for use of the E-filing system.
As in civil cases, there will be a filing fee required of the parties, but those determined by the court to be indigent clients represented by counsel will have such fees waived, according to the Supreme Court’s Feb. 6 order announcing implementation of the program.
The court is not requiring the inclusion of confidential information in sensitive cases, such as a prosecution involving a child victim of sexual or physical abuse, parties’ Social Security numbers, financial information or other information deemed to be confidential.
The pilot program, as per Supreme Court order, is scheduled to run until the spring of 2014, although the program’s terms may be modified on occasion by the issuance of a local court rule, the order states.
While originally expected to be unveiled on April 1, the start date of the program was pushed back until May 6, although the reasons for the delayed implementation were not immediately clear.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court President Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Administrative Judge of the Trial Division John W. Herron, and Philadelphia Municipal Court President Judge Marsha H. Neifield announced the start of the pilot program in a May 3 notice to the bar filed at the First Judicial District.
In February 2012, the FJD made civil complaints available for view and purchase online for the first time, the move coming more than three years after the court system first introduced electronic filing for civil cases.
It was unclear if the pilot program for criminal E-filing would also potentially lead to those filings being available for online purchase by members of the public.