Software Error Blamed For Wrongful Arrests

On Tuesday, two residents of North Carolina filed a federal lawsuit that alleges that an electronic system that handles court records in the state resulted in some people being arrested more than once on a single warrant, while also delaying others being released from custody.

The new electronic system was rolled out in four North Carolina counties just this year.

The defendants of the lawsuit are the technology company from Texas that designed the electronic system as well as the county sheriff’s departments that used it.

The plaintiffs in the matter are Paulino Castellanos from Lee County and Timia Chaplin from Wake County. They filed their complaint in U.S. District Court, asking the federal judge to ban the sheriffs from using the system any more. They are arguing that the system subjects people to “unconstitutional deprivations of liberty.”

The case is actually a proposed class action lawsuit, and suggests that there are probably hundreds of people around North Carolina that have been affected by the system in the same way that they have.

In the complaint, the two plaintiffs said:

“This class action seeks to remedy past harms and – as eCourts is soon expected to be implemented in North Carolina’s remaining counties – prevent future violations.”

In 2019, Tyler Technologies was awarded a $100 million contract by the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts to provide them with eCourts, which is a software applications package.

The program just launched on February 13 of this year in four North Carolina counties that were part of the pilot program – Harnett, Johnston, Lee and Wake. The expectation is that the system will roll out to all 100 of the state’s counties by 2025.

Many different lawmakers and attorneys have said that eCourts has experienced an extremely rocky rollout, with many lags in the system, expansion delays and glitches.

Chaplin says that she was arrested two different times on the same warrant, which was issued because she failed to appear in court. She further claims the eCourts malfunctions violated her constitutional right to not to be subject to any unlawful search, seizure and detention.

A judge ultimately dismissed her case when she went to court in March for a rescheduled hearing, but Chaplin said the warrant for her arrest maintained an outstanding status for almost a month after that simply because its “resolved” status wasn’t communicated across the eCourts applications.

Castellanos is claiming that he experienced a delay of roughly 14 days of being released from jail because of issues that were experienced in digitizing his case file.

The lawsuit names both Brian Estes, the sheriff of Lee County, and Willie Rowe, the sheriff of Wake County, as defendants in the case.

The North Carolina Judicial Branch’s spokesperson, Graham Wilson, said this week that they have encouraged all court officials, attorneys and residents to report all similar issues ever since the eCourts system first launched. 

Wilson commented on Tuesday:

“We have investigated each report we have received and have not substantiated that any allegation of wrongful arrest or incarceration was caused by” the eCourts system.