May 14, 2015

Citizen's CourtWatch: Mini-Training

Danielle Simpson, JD
CourtWatch Coordinator
Tuesday evening John Wolfinger and I had the opportunity to attend a Citizen’s CourtWatch mini-training session with our new CourtWatch Coordinator, Danielle Simpson, JD. John, of course, has been a CourtWatcher for many years, but I was new to the process and am now looking forward to participating in the program.

Citizen’s CourtWatch is a part of Community Prosecution, which is a specialized unit within the Fulton County District Attorney’s office. CourtWatch is a national program, and began here with a federal grant in 2000. To date Fulton Country is the only District Attorney’s office that has implemented such a program.

Keith Lamar,
Assistant District Attorney
Attorneys within the unit are assigned to geographic areas within the county. In the City of Atlanta they are aligned with our APD police zones, and our prosecutor for Zone 6 is Assistant District Attorney Keith Lamar. The focus of community prosecutions is repeat offenders, quality of life crimes, and cases of high interest to the community. In addition to handling specific cases, the Community Prosecution division also monitors cases of interest to the community being handled by other divisions, such as the recent murder near the BeltLine Kroger.

The Citizen’s CourtWatch program is overseen by Danielle and as the only coordinator for all of Fulton County, she has a big job. The mission of Citizen’s CourtWatch is to educate citizens about the court system and to encourage participation in the system through attendance at hearings and by offering impact statements.

This input helps the courts make decisions about sentencing and gives citizens a voice regarding the impact of crime on our community. Participation also supports the police and prosecution to successfully convict repeat offenders and helps to ensure that court decisions are consistent with community values
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Danielle walked us through the process for an arrestee from first appearance through bond, preliminary hearings, pleas, trials and sentencing. Here is a link to some more information about that process

She explained how cases are selected to be tried by community prosecutors (as opposed to other departments within the District Attorney’s office) and how cases being handled by other departments are monitored. Finally she explained the process for CourtWatchers to attend and speak in court.

Though this brief session provided a great deal of information, a larger full training is being planned for late in the summer. This event will likely be held on a Saturday and will include representatives and speakers from throughout the criminal justice system. If you would like to be on Danielle’s distribution to be notified about this training, send her an email message at [email protected] or call her at 678-638-9263.

In the meantime, John and other CourtWatchers from the neighborhood will try to attend court whenever relevant cases come up, and will keep you posted on the outcome. This program may also serve as a good way to monitor the decisions of the judges we have elected and to determine if they deserve their seat on the bench.

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