by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
Most pieces of software don’t have the power to get someone arrested—but Tyler Technologies’ Odyssey Case Manager does. This is the case management software that runs on the computers of hundreds and perhaps even thousands of court clerks and judges in county courthouses across the US. (Federal courts use an entirely different system.)
Typically, when a judge makes a ruling—for example, issuing or rescinding a warrant—those words said by a judge in court are entered into Odyssey. That information is then relied upon by law enforcement officers to coordinate arrests and releases and to issue court summons. (Most other courts, even if they don’t use Odyssey, use a similar software system from another vendor.)
But, just across the bay from San Francisco, one of Alameda County’s deputy public defenders, Jeff Chorney, says that since the county switched from a decades-old computer system to Odyssey in August, dozens of defendants have been wrongly arrested or jailed. Others have even been forced to register as sex offenders unnecessarily. “I understand that with every piece of technology, bugs have to be worked out,” he said, practically exasperated. “But we’re not talking about whether people are getting their paychecks on time. We’re talking about people being locked in cages, that’s what jail is. It’s taking a person and locking them in a cage.”
Odyssey is used not only in Alameda County and additionally in 25 of California’s 58 county courts, but also in counties nationwide, from Miami-Dade County, Florida, to Kane County, Illinois. Lawyers in at least three counties in as many states have reported problems nearly identical to Alameda’s and have begun formal legal proceedings as a result. Earlier this month, an activist group in Shelby County, Tennessee, alleged similar issues in a recently filed federal civil rights lawsuit. According to the Memphis Daily News, Shelby County Commissioners discussed on Wednesday possible legal action against Tyler Technologies.
Are any North Carolina courts using this product?