Nebraska Judicial Branch modernizes its Electronic Exhibits System using AWS
The Nebraska Judicial Branch is a vital component of the state’s government for interpreting and applying the law to resolve disputes and uphold justice. More than 180 courts compose the Nebraska Judicial Branch, including district courts, county courts, separate juvenile courts, the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court, the Nebraska Court of Appeals, and the Nebraska Supreme Court. The Nebraska Judicial Branch operates under the administrative direction of the state’s Supreme Court, which consists of a Chief Justice and six associate justices. This blog post highlights Nebraska Judicial Branch’s journey to building an electronic exhibits system on Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Nebraska trial courts handle more than 285,000 cases annually. Case exhibits include documents, images, videos, audio recordings, and physical evidence presented during a trial or hearing to support facts presented in the case. There are a number of challenges associated with maintaining these materials. For example, exhibits must be marked, stored, and tracked with a clear chain of custody to ensure their integrity and reliability throughout the legal proceedings. Trial courts struggle to manually maintain exhibits and manage inventory of these exhibits in various forms. It can be challenging to keep these exhibits secure, and physical space to store these documents is limited. Manually maintaining physical exhibits also presents the possibility of human error. And once a court proceeding is complete, the exhibits need to be archived according to specific retention policies. In addition, exhibits from court proceedings, need to be made available if a specific case or issue is appealed.
Recently, the Nebraska Supreme Court adopted significant rule amendments related to court exhibits, including requiring an electronic process for sharing exhibits with the appellate courts as Bills of Exception (BOEs). To facilitate electronic submission of these BOEs, the Supreme Court rule requires case exhibits to be converted into electronic format.
“The Supreme Court has adopted the modernization rules to streamline the trial and appellate courts’ work methods and processes and recognized an opportunity to further streamline our trial and appellate processes even more with the development of an electronic exhibits management system,” said Corey Steel, a state court administrator.
Solution: Implementing the Electronic Exhibits System on AWS
To comply with the new Electronic Exhibits System (E-Exhibits System) rule, the Nebraska Judicial Branch needed a solution to automate manual processes and provide a secure, reliable, and scalable system for uploading, tracking, and storing exhibits. The Judicial Branch spent time researching commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products. The CIO determined the best approach for the Judicial Branch was to work with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and ScaleCapacity on a cloud-based solution to meet the requirements for a secure, efficient, and scalable system.
The Nebraska Judicial Branch was also concerned that its staff had limited experience working with cloud solutions. The AWS team ran workshops and deep dive sessions to provide Judicial Branch teams with AWS cloud skills training.
AWS and ScaleCapacity worked closely with the key stakeholders including Nebraska Supreme Court justices, county and district court judges, attorneys, court reporting personnel, court administration, and the Judicial Branch CIO to gather and understand the requirements for the E-Exhibits System. The secure content management system is capable of managing documents, audio, video, images, and exhibit workflows. Attorneys are able to upload the exhibits for a case and present them to court reporting personnel, share exhibits with other parties, or include exhibits in BOEs. The content management system also manages the lifecycle and retention polices for the exhibits, including a full audit trail of exhibits used. This improvement in processing and retention allows stakeholders to validate achievement of all business requirements.
As shown in Figure 1, the content management system is based on a modern, secure, serverless microservices architecture. The system is also highly scalable, reliable, and secure. The services used include: Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS), a managed container service; AWS Lambda serverless computing service; Amazon API Gateway, a fully managed service to create, publish and manage APIs at scale; Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), highly scalable and durable object storage; Amazon DynamoDB, a fully managed NoSQL database service; Amazon Cognito, a managed identity and access management (IAM) service; and Amazon Bedrock, a fully managed service to build generative AI applications.
The Nebraska Judicial Branch worked with ScaleCapacity on a proof-of-concept (POC) to add semantic search-based query capabilities. ScaleCapacity leveraged Amazon Bedrock and Amazon OpenSearch Service to build the semantic search capabilities to allow users to quickly search for content that may be spread across several documents, videos, and audio files. The application uses large language models (LLMs), OpenSearch Service, and the LangChain open source framework to provide semantic search functionality.
Previously, users (including attorneys and court personnel) would have to review all case exhibits to determine answers to case-related questions, a process that could take several hours to a few days. With the generative AI based semantic search, users can ask a question and receive answers within seconds.
Results and next steps
By leveraging cloud technologies to build a secure, efficient, and scalable electronic exhibits system, the Nebraska Judicial Branch has centralized the management of case exhibits and overcame the challenges of managing paper-based and physical exhibits. As next step, the Nebraska Judicial Branch plans to use this system as a centralized repository for all electronically filed documents within the courts and probation.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out our Justice and Public Safety cloud resources.
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