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State Supreme Court Chief Justice talks court technology, legislative current events

State Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin spoke Monday at the John Locke Foundation about the future of North Carolina courts. (Photo by Nelle Dunlap)

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin spoke today at the John Locke Foundation about the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice he convened and the future of the court system.

Martin talked mostly about court technology and an e-filing system that is in the process of being implemented but he also discussed some political issues, including raising the age of juvenile prosecution and the opioid epidemic.

Here are some highlights from event:

On e-filing:

“It’s a brave new world, and I think the thing that should encourages us in the e-courts effort is that 76 percent of Americans, according to the most recent polling data, want more court resources available online – and if you go below [age] 40, the number skyrockets to 86 percent.”

On a new Courthouse and Cyber Security Task Force Martin has commissioned:

“I’d rather be proactive as Chief Justice and make sure that our court facilities are safe than wake up a year and a half from now and realize that we have people that have been harmed because of our inaction, because government did not work well.”

On reasons the state is behind in court technology:

“Often times, we are behind other branches of government because we have not always been a favored beneficiary of appropriated funds.”

On efforts to raise the juvenile age of prosecution from 16 and 17 years old to 18 years old: 

Martin explained that if a 16-year-old is arrested for stealing a $12 pendant from the mall, her name goes on the Internet and she quickly moves through the adult criminal system without a second thought and without any effort to restore the young person.

He added that 49 other states have made the change to raise the age.

“Why have we not made already made the change? I think it’s just inertia; government’s good at inertia, right?”

Martin said there is certainly a fairness factor when it comes to raising the age, but there are also other considerations.

“I don’t predicate this program on fairness; I predicate it on results. In the 49 states where we’ve used this approach, we get better outcomes, and that’s what the justice system is trying to do.”

Martin was also asked about his Commission’s stance on what crimes should be included in the raise the age effort. There has been some dispute among lawmakers about whether felonies should be included.

“All I know is the latest news from the General Assembly, and that is that misdemeanors would be eligible for the referral, as well as H and I felonies.”

“H and I felonies are generally non-violent situations, and in-fact, I’ve asked the General Assembly to the extent that there are any violent crimes that those should be redacted. I don’t know what the outcome would be.”

On the opioid epidemic:

Martin presented statistics that he described as “so mind boggling; I don’t know how this happened.”

He said 1,500 North Carolinians died of a drug overdose last year. He added that since 2010, there has been an 884 percent increase in heroin-related deaths.

“My friends, that’s just seven years ago – that’s shocking. Each of us should be shocked by these statistics. What can we do to change this?”

“This is a complex issue and there’s  a lot of folks that are going to have to give a little bit to make this work. There are things we can do to make this better.”

Martin recently accepted an invitation to join the Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative (RJOI), which is a working group of regional state court officials that was created to develop multi-state solutions and best practices for addressing the opioid epidemic.

On the Court of Appeals: 

“It’s amazing with only 15 judges for the 9th most populous state that we’re able to have a Court of Appeals that functions that well, but it’s because it was the result of a study commission, the Bell Commission.”

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