Why does the Court have a case management system?
There are two overriding goals for the Court’s case management system:
1. To promote efficiency: The case management system seeks to keep the case off the docket until there is need for action involving the court, as opposed to actions that the parties can perform themselves. By reserving time in court for those tasks requiring court action, all of the parties can work more efficiently. Consequently, the daily dockets should not be used solely for the parties to discuss a case or to meet with clients, as these actions can be accomplished outside of court.
2. To resolve routine cases more quickly: The case management system seeks to shorten the life of cases by identifying legal and factual issues early in the case and then by moving the case to resolution. The Court will always spend the time necessary to resolve complicated factual and legal issues. However, the case management system also recognizes that, by purposeful attention given to cases, most matters can be resolved expeditiously. See Model Time Standards for State Trial Courts, National Center for State Courts (identifying model standards for resolution of felony and misdemeanor cases) (cited in State v. Davis, 466 S.W.3d 49, 79-80 (Tenn. 2015) (Lee, J., concurring).
In the typical case, what happens?
In routine or typical cases, the goal of the case management system is to minimize unnecessary court dates and to move the case efficiently to a resolution.
As such, in a case without complicated legal or factual issues, the case may only appear on the docket a few times: Arraignment; Initial Status Conference; Main Status Conference; Conclusion (by dismissal, plea, or trial).
In more complicated cases, additional hearings will be held to resolve preliminary legal issues. In cases that are scheduled for trial, additional hearings will be scheduled to resolve issues that may affect the trial of the case.
What hearings are scheduled at the arraignment?
After preliminary matters, the Court will schedule two dates at the arraignment: (1) an informal discussion date for the parties; and (2) the date for the Initial Status Conference.
What are the purposes of the Status Conferences?
1. Informal Discussion: The purpose of this preliminary meeting is to get all the parties in the same room, informally, to discuss the case before it appears on the docket. This meeting is scheduled for a Monday morning between 9:00 and 10:30 when the Court is not in session, and the Court requires that the accused be present. Ideally, the parties would discuss their particular needs for discovery, as well as possible opportunities for early resolution.
2. Initial Status Conference: The purpose of this Initial Status Conference is for the Court to schedule the case. The type of schedule will be influenced by the parties’ needs for discovery, the presence of significant legal issues, and the prospects for early resolution.
Sometimes, the case may resolve at this Initial Status Conference. If the case does not resolve at the Initial Status Conference, the Court will place the matter on a Scheduling Order. This Scheduling Order will set a Main Status Conference date, and otherwise set deadlines for the completion of discovery and the filing of any pretrial motions. See Tenn. R. Crim. P. 12(b)(2).
3. Main Status Conference: The purpose of the Main Status Conference is to convene the parties after they have exchanged the required information and have identified the principal legal issues involved.
If significant legal issues are present, the Court will schedule an evidentiary hearing to resolve those issues. However, if no significant legal issues are present, the Court will set the case for plea or for trial.
My case has resolved before the Main Status Conference date. Can the Court hear my case before that next court date?
Of course. The parties simply need to notify the Court informally of the requested time, and the Court will place the matter on the docket for resolution.
Generally speaking, the Court wishes to keep the case off the docket when the Court is not necessary to any action, such as discussions or conferences involving the parties.
On the other hand, where the Court is necessary to a particular action, the Court will certainly place the case on the docket at the mutual convenience of the parties.
I filed a motion, but the motion did not come up on the regular motion docket. When will my motion be heard?
One of the goals of the case management system is to keep the case off of the docket until there is a need for the Court to act. To that end, the scheduling order will defer all motions (except for motions to withdraw) to the main status conference.
At the main status conference, the Court will address all of the motions filed, and, if an evidentiary hearing is needed, the Court will schedule the motions for a hearing.
Sometimes, a party may wish to have a particular motion, such as a bond motion, heard before the status conference. In that case, the party need only to notify the Court, and the Court will set the motion for a hearing.
When does the Court typically schedule evidentiary hearings?
The Court typically schedules longer evidentiary hearings in the afternoon. This is done principally for the convenience of third-party witnesses and to avoid lengthy interruption to the morning docket.
For shorter evidentiary hearings, such as probation violations where the number of third-party witnesses may not be significant, the Court may schedule these hearings on a morning docket.
My case has been scheduled for a “Plea Agreement Notice Date.” What does this mean?
This is the date by which the parties essentially decide the direction in which they want the case to proceed.
If the parties wish to submit a proposed plea to the Court for consideration, the parties would notify the Court of this fact on or before this date.
If no plea agreement has been reached by this date, the Court will set the case for trial. Importantly, once the plea agreement date passes, the Court will not thereafter consider a negotiated plea. Consistent with the constitutional rights of the accused, however, the Court will always accept a plea to all of the charges set forth in the indictment, with sentencing left to the Court.
The parties may communicate this notice informally to the Court by email or by a phone call to chambers. The parties may also give such notice in open court.
I have suggestions to improve the case management system. Do the procedures ever change?
Absolutely. The Court constantly evaluates how its procedures are working to achieve its case management goals. The Court has already adopted suggestions by others as to how to strengthen the process, and the Court genuinely invites comment and opinion as to possible improvements.
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