Center for Court Innovation
According to the Judge, the reason for this is that, for low-level charges, most defen- dants are confident that they can handle their cases themselves.18
Pleading Not Guilty Cases where the defendant pleads not guilty and requests a bench trial can be heard by the Community Court’s Judge. Cases in which a defen- dant is eligible for and requests a jury trial normally are transferred to the superior court. In some instances, cases can be transferred to the Superior Court for other reasons as well. For example, the Judge reported that one defendant who had multi- ple cases pending at the Superior Court was transferred there. It was sensible, the Judge explained, to add the instant charge that brought him to the Community Court to his “total package” of cases at the Superior Court.
Pleading Guilty Defendants who refuse the community service offer can opt to plead guilty; they are commonly ordered to pay a fine (typically $35). The guilty finding against them goes on their criminal record.
Consequences of Noncompliance If defendants fail to appear or fail to complete their intermediate sanction, the Court can issue a rearrest warrant that is referred to the Hartford Police Department to be served.19 At its discretion, the Court may impose additional sanctions for those who fail to complete their mandates. For ordi- nance violations, rearrest leads to a C Misdemeanor conviction for failure to appear or failure to comply with conditions.
Human Services After arraignment, every defendant receives a needs assessment through the Court’s human services offices, regardless of whether he accepts a plea or is transferred to another court. Human services staff might refer defendants to substance abuse counseling, mental health and medical services, GED classes, job placement, and housing, or provide medical or food stamp authorization cards.
Traditionally, the “going rates” for the offenses that the Community Court handles resulted in few sanctions. At the Superior Court, low-level cases were commonly “nolled.” The 36 percent of cases that were not “nolled” usually received fines or, according to Court personnel, “informal probation” through a conditional discharge. Unconditional discharges were issued as well. The most frequent sentence for con- victed cases was a $35 fine.20
18 The handling of misdemeanors at the Hartford Community Court does not differ from Superior Court. In Hartford, low-level misdemeanor cases rarely have legal representation; individuals facing ordi- nance violation charges almost never do. The vast majority of cases at the Hartford Community Court would not have had legal representation previously.
19 If, given a second chance, defendants complete their mandate, then their case still is dismissed and their record expunged. In the event that they repeatedly fail to complete and are transferred to Superior Court, the instant charge remains on their permanent record and they go to Superior Court for sentencing.
20 There is no baseline information on what proportion of those charged with an ordinance violation paid their fine, or what happened when defendants failed to pay their fines. Presumably, the Community