July 19, 2019

UJS change is a huge step in right direction - Daily Leader Extra : Editorials

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UJS change is a huge step in right direction

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Posted: Thursday, July 11, 2019 2:44 pm

The court system in South Dakota is about to make public court records easier to access -- a huge jump over what is necessary now.

The Unified Judicial System (UJS), which oversees all courts in South Dakota, is currently piloting a program that will eventually allow the public to see records from any computer connected to the internet, said Greg Sattizahn, administrator of the UJS. The website will be similar to the PACER website, which lets people view and download federal court records for a fee.

Up until now, a person wishing to see public court records needed to go to a county courthouse and use a terminal at that location. In some parts of South Dakota, the county seat may be quite a ways away. Also, a viewer needed to know the case number, which typically would be available only through the defendant's attorney, or by telling a clerk the defendant's name and alleged offense.

The UJS has known its access system is outdated, but the cost or complexity keep delaying development of a new system.

The new website will allow people to search by name if a date of birth or county and date range of the alleged offense are also entered. Requiring the extra information with the name is meant "to ensure the correct person and case is returned and to safeguard against data mining," Sattizahn said.

The fee to retrieve documents will be 10 cents per page, a reasonable amount, in our opinion. The money will go to pay for the system and its administration. To search for someone's complete criminal background, the fee is $20, perhaps a little high.

Making court information more accessible has been a long time coming, but we're enthused the time has finally come.

-- Jon M. Hunter