I have long been planning a post about criminal justice information in DC, the intra-governmental hurdles to transparency efforts, the value of friction in “open” data, and the difficulty of bringing emotional sensitivity to a database.

These thoughts have not quite congealed as of yet (from notes aplenty). While I await the muse, I figured there could be some use to publishing the information below.

It is an initial response to the following premise:

You are a member of Washington, DC’s general public. Someone in your community is involved in a homicide, either as a victim or suspect. You want to know what happens next. Where do you look? What does it take to follow a case as it moves from crime through to conviction and sentencing?

Caveat emptor: I am not a lawyer.

A Homicide Case Information Timeline

What When Where to Find Information
Public notified of homicide 30 minutes after the homicide MPD Twitter and (later) DC's open data catalog
Victim identities disclosed 1 day after the homicide MPD press release
Detective assigned to the case 1-2 days after the homicide
Suspect identified with variable timeframe MPD press release
Warrant issued 1 day after suspects identified DC Courts active warrant list
Suspect arrested with variable timeframe MPD press release
paper or no-paper decision
Court case number assigned 1 to 7 days after the arrest Search eAccess and Attorney Calendar for defendant name
Indictment 3 or more months after the arrest DC Courts in-person visit
potential plea bargain
Trial 1 year after the arrest eAccess and DC Courts in-person visit
Jury deliberations with variable timeframe DC Courts in-person visit
Verdict announced with variable timeframe eAccess
Sentence announced 1 week to 1 month after the verdict; 1 or more years after indictment eAccess
decision to appeal
Case appealed with variable timeframe eAccess and Appellate E-Filing System

MPD uses a Criminal Complaint Number to unique identify an incident. Incident details given in the open data catalog are location, date, weapon used, and victim race.

The Court issues cases their own unique identifier. It is also initialed CCN (Court Case Number), but is totally unrelated to MPD’s. I believe there is some system to cross-walk between the two, but it is not shared with the public.

Case search used to be through another system called “Court Cases Online,” which lacked a CAPTCHA barrier. This changed at some point in the past several years.

You need to make an in-person visit to the Superior Court to get physical copies of indictments, charging documents, and plea agreements. If you do not sit in on the trial, you may request a transcript for a hefty fee.