Court outcomes website to launch
by Kellen Short
The Watauga Substance Abuse Prevention collaborative will launch a new website Nov. 1 aimed at tracking the legal outcomes for people charged with drug- and alcohol-related crimes in Watauga County.
The website, courtoutcomes.com, was created to aggregate local data to prove or dispel community perceptions about how substance-related citations are disposed of in the county.
Through a state grant in 2011, the Preventing Alcohol-Related Crashes group began studying issues of concern in the community, including factors that might play in to an unusually high number of alcohol-related crashes, said Angela Hagaman, a member of WSAP.
The study revealed a perception that impaired driving cases in Watauga County were continued numerous times more than in other similar counties. Interviews also found that many people charged with underage drinking were able to get their cases dismissed before going to court or deferred and continued, according to the website.
If the community perception is that the courts don't take such charges seriously, residents have less incentive to follow the law, Hagaman said.
The website features a searchable database of all current Watauga County court cases related to drugs or alcohol, ranging from drug trafficking to drunk and disruptive to manufacturing liquor without a license.
Users can search by type of charge, attorney, judge, officer name, issue date or final disposition. Defendants are not identified by name on the website.
The data in the system starts from January 2013, although some cases still going through the legal system go back as far as 2007, Hagaman said.
Hagaman said a person visits the courthouse weekly to gather the information and update the site.
Although court case information is available to the public at the courthouse, those documents are not available electronically. The N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts compiles some information for the public online, but it doesn't provide a real-time view, Hagaman said.
Clerk of Court Diane Deal said her office was happy to help with the project by setting aside their daily listings of new cases for the group to review.
"I think it's a good project," she said. "I think it will be beneficial for the local people to be able to see how quickly things are moving or not moving through our court system."
WSAP unveiled the website Oct. 8 for a group that included representatives from law enforcement, the district attorney's office, defense attorney offices, drug treatment court and the probation office.
The project is funded by a federal grant and has cost about $3,000 so far to set up, Hagaman said.
The website will remain active for at least five years, and Hagaman said the group would like to expand the site to other counties.
At the end of the five years, WSAP will have a wealth of data to review.
"We do have money for evaluation, and I'd like to see us sort of aggregate the data to see if there are patterns," Hagaman said.
Anyone interested in learning more about the Watauga Substance Abuse Prevention collaborative, which aims to reduce youth substance use and abuse, may visit wsap.org or attend its meetings on the fourth Thursday of every month from 10 a.m. to noon at Watauga High School.