Judiciary’s E-signature plans would slash travel times

Boston Statehouse

BOTSON (SHNS) – A trio of judicial leaders said Tuesday that the Trial Court is moving ahead with a series of technological upgrades and asked lawmakers to authorize a shift away from wet signatures and towards electronic signing for various applications.

Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey, District Court Judge Andrew D’Angelo and Norfolk County Clerk Magistrate Michelle Kelly pitched a handful of bills to the Judiciary Committee to authorize digital signatures for criminal complaint applications (H 1891/S 1059) and for search warrant applications (H 1892/S 1109).

Massachusetts courts already use electronic applications for criminal complaints, but to be filed the application must have a police officer’s wet signature on it, Carey said. Allowing electronic signatures would eliminate the requirement that a department send an officer to a courthouse to physically sign an application, which Carey said is particularly burdensome on small town police forces.

“It will also streamline the complaint process leading, ultimately, to our goal of a paperless system,” Carey, who highlighted a series of technology initiatives underway at the Trial Court, said. When it comes to search warrant applications, time is of the essence, Carey said. That means that police officers often travel to a judge or magistrate’s home to seek approval of a warrant when courthouses are closed.

D’Angelo said allowing electronic signature for search warrant applications would move those interactions to Zoom or other virtual platforms but leave the process otherwise unchanged. “The police officer would still be sworn in under oath, the judge or clerk magistrate would still have face-to-face contact with the police officer, but what it does is avoids the necessity of a police officer traveling from a scene to a judge or clerk’s home,” he said, adding that those at-home encounters can become uncomfortable when a judge denies a search warrant but is not supposed to counsel the police on how to draft a successful application. “That has benefits for all parties.” 

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