A New Procedure For Updating Pending Cases

This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.

A New Procedure For Updating Pending Cases

Sara Godfrey

Our tPP team prides itself on efficiency and productivity. Therefore, when I found out there was an odd number of students participating in our class-time block I knew I had to be open adjusting my role as a project coder.

Intercoder reliability is very important to the Prosecution Project. It is essential for every case to be coded by two project coders, who will then compare their results and discuss any conflicting values in order to produce a fully coded case. Additionally, each pair will then present their cases to a member on the tPP leadership team who will look over the team’s work and then integrate the coded case into our data set. This process is lengthy but essential to producing the most accurate results.

This semester I found myself without a coding partner as my previous partner graduated last December. After meeting with members of the leadership team, we concluded that the simple solution of creating a team of three project coders would not be logical. And as we as a team strive to be as efficient as possible, we knew my role as a project coder would need to be adjusted.

Another one of our team values is always thinking to improve our project. This includes redefining or clarifying procedures, all the way to developing software to search for new case starters. As we were faced with an odd number of project coders, we immediately starting brainstorming what ways we could deal with this issue that would most benefit our project.

After some thinking, we identified an area of the project in need of improvement: updating pending cases.

Cases in which are lacking values remain in our “Pending Cases” tab. This is most commonly due to a lack of plea, verdict, or sentencing information. However as the project has continued to grow, over 500 cases remain in our “Pending Cases” dataset.

Typically, partially coded cases residing in our pending cases dataset look like this:

In the past, we have had no formal procedure for tracking and updating these cases, and as I was without a coding partner this semester I took on this task with the help of the leadership team.

Currently, news articles and DOJ press statements that potentially contain information regarding pending cases are uploaded to our “Case Updates/ Files to be re-named/file” folder.

Typically, these files will be periodically checked for updates, then refiled to the correct source docs folder. We have often had trouble following up with cases that are currently proceeding through the legal system. Knowing when to check up on a case for new plea/ verdict/ sentencing data can be tricky as we have hundreds of cases pending. Therefore we needed a new way to do this.

With the help of the leadership team, a new calendar has been developed to help us track pending cases in an orderly fashion. Frequently DOJ press release or a news article stating a defendant’s plea or verdict will contain information on a sentencing date. Previously, the plea/ verdict information would be used to update our dataset, while the sentencing date would become lost, leaving the case to remain in our pending cases for an unnecessary amount of time.

My work this past semester has come to focus on resolving this issue. Each source file checked for a potential update will be scanned for a mentioned sentencing date. This can almost always be located if the trial’s verdict has been released. The sentencing dates can typically be found in the last paragraph of a news source or DOJ press release. If not, and the verdict has been delivered, the defendant can be searched on PACER/ RECAP, in which the docket will state the scheduled sentencing date.

Once the scheduled sentencing date is located it will be added to the tPP google calendar which will alert us the day after the defendant was scheduled to be sentenced. Each entry into the google calendar will contain the cases numerical ID, defendant’s name, and court district making the updating process efficient and easy.

So far 10 sentencing dates have been added to the calendar and our team is awaiting updates. We hope to continue to use this process to allow our calendar to grow and continue to improve our strategies for updating cases.

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