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Courtroom Communities: Criminal Case Processing and Sentencing Reform

NCJ Number
NIJ Journal Issue: 284
Date Published
November 2022

The vast majority of criminal cases involve negotiated pleas with the final sentence determined through compromise. These negotiations generally involve actors who are skilled at working cooperatively using a combination of written and unwritten rules to move cases quickly and efficiently through the system. The entity within the court system responsible for implementing formal rules of operation — and developing informal rules — is often referred to as the “courtroom community.” Based on a theory of organizational dynamics, the courtroom community framework has been used to provide a better understanding of felony court decision-making, processing, and outcomes. In recent years, the concept has been used to analyze the implementation of sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimums, and “get tough” sentencing policies in an effort to better understand how court adaptation affects the final outcome of legal and policy changes in the court system. This article explores the courtroom community framework — its members, its goals, and its role in court operations and sentencing outcomes. Drawing from research on courtroom culture, the article highlights the critical need to consider the courtroom community when developing and implementing future criminal justice reforms.

Date Published: November 1, 2022