Hartford Community Court
Defendant Choice in Sanctioning Originally, there was concern that a large propor- tion of defendants might plead not guilty and request a trial in the Superior Court, thereby avoiding Community Court sanctioning. During initial operations, Court personnel were pleased to note that the vast majority of defendants coming through the Court did accept the plea to alternative sanctions. Expunging the arrest and avoiding a small fine proved to be sufficient incentive for most defendants to accept the sanctions meted out at the Community Court.
Equitable Distribution of Community Service Work in Neighborhoods In the Court’s planning stages, several individuals pointed out that two or three of the City’s most-victimized communities would probably receive the vast majority of Court- sponsored community service assistance, because defendants would be assigned to pay back the victimized neighborhood. They were concerned that other neighbor- hoods might feel slighted. They suggested that, because the Court is centralized, it needed to respond to priority problems in all neighborhoods — even those with rela- tively low offense frequency.
This issue brought to the surface a fundamental conflict between the centralized community court approach and one of the basic principles of the community court model — paying back the harmed neighborhood. In allocating community service sentences, project planners in Hartford are concerned about striking a delicate bal- ance between distributing “pay back” to neighborhoods where offenses occur and providing less disorderly areas with some minimal level of help.
Defense Role As discussed, the defense bar has played a relatively small role in the planning and daily operations of the Hartford Community Court. Although the defense bar has traditionally played little role in the processing of ordinance offenses, the expanded range of sanctions available to the Community Court may raise due process issues. Without a well-defined defense role in the courtroom, are defendants interests sufficiently represented? This question is particularly relevant in low-level cases that lead to lengthy social service mandates in response to assessed need.
Proportionality of Sanctioning & Human Service Mandates As discussed, the length of social service sanctions is determined by human services staff based on a review of defendants’ problems. This practice raises questions about the proportion- ality of sentencing and the appropriate response to non-compliance. What are the ramifications of mandating lengthy human service assignments for acts as minor as drinking a beer in public? If defendants originally faced a $35 fine, what prevents them from ignoring social service mandates? What happens if they fail to comply?
Project Coordination In contrast to the Midtown Court and other community courts being planned, the Hartford Community Court does not have a designated coordina- tor. In addition to his role in the courtroom, the Judge carries substantial responsi- bility for project coordination and for overseeing court operations. Although the orig-