How ODR Can Benefit Three Criminal Case Types

June 12, 2019 by Colin Rule

First in a series by Colin Rule

How ODR Can Benefit Three Criminal Case Types

Twenty years ago, the sweet spot for online dispute resolution (ODR) was thought to be in high volume, low value transactional disputes, much like the cases resolved on eBay by the millions. Over the last ten years, ODR has worked its way into the civil courts with much success. The online dispute resolution tool Modria has benefitted litigants as well as court systems in family cases and small claims cases from debt to landlord-tenant to consumer issues.  

The system helps parties diagnose their issues, exchange offers, and resolve matters through direct negotiation and mediation – an approach that seems intuitively suited to cases based around a disagreement or matters resolvable with a payment from one side to the other.

Interacting with judges and court clerks on the criminal side has shown me that interesting possibilities exist for leveraging ODR in their work as well. While criminal cases don’t often involve the good-faith negotiations common in civil ODR, online resolution can add significant value in the following criminal areas:

1. Moving Vehicle Violations

Moving and non-moving motor vehicle infractions can be both civil (e.g. speeding, parking, running a red light) or criminal (careless driving, driving without a license, driving under the influence). These cases differ from traditional civil cases because they can be between the perpetrator and the state, not two private parties who have a disagreement. Most civil traffic cases are relatively low value; they are not worthy of long court processes, and no attorneys are involved. Creating an expedited online process can allow for accelerated review that is in everyone’s interest. For example, a first-time recipient of a ticket can appeal and share evidence online. Law enforcement officers can respond without taking time off of work to attend court in person. This win-win efficiency is one reason why ODR is beginning to expand rapidly in traffic cases.

2. Victim Offender Reconciliation Programs

Victim offender reconciliation programs (VORP) have a long history of providing restorative justice in the wake of criminal acts. These programs enable victims and perpetrators to communicate directly in order to restore some trust and accelerate the healing process, while reducing recidivism. Originally applied to misdemeanor cases like shoplifting and purse snatching (especially in cases involving younger perpetrators), VORP programs have extended into more emotionally fraught cases such as sexual assault and harassment. These programs can leverage ODR to enable managed conversations between parties in a safe, controlled environment, particularly when the parties are unable or unwilling to participate in person.

3. Plea Bargaining

Plea bargaining is at the heart of the criminal justice system. Judges and lawyers alike will share that many – if not most – criminal cases come down to negotiations between a prosecutor and the defense counsel. While these discussions are between lawyers as opposed to affected individuals, they are still exchanges of offers between parties in an attempt to reach an outcome by mutual agreement. Modern technology such as Modria can provide a system through which attorneys could exchange offers, reach an outcome, and memorialize the agreement, all online. An exciting evolution of this could be tools and calculators to assist participants in determining a fair range of resolutions based on past cases and best practices.

These are just a few examples of potential applications of ODR in criminal cases. Especially in the areas of traffic and alternative minimum sentences, these options hold much promise. All of us working on improvements in the justice system should be on the lookout for opportunities like these that could provide real benefit to the public and the courts. Feel free to share your ideas with me at   

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