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Lengths Courts Go to Try a Case -- And Possible Remedies

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1988
14 pages
A 2-year study documented the overall length of civil and criminal trials in various courts, analyzed variations in trial time, and identified policies and procedures that might shorten trial time without sacrificing fairness.
The study analyzed data from more than 1,500 trials in 9 trial courts of general jurisdiction in New Jersey, Colorado, and California. In addition, the researchers carried out extensive site interviews and submitted questionnaires to judges and lawyers. The researchers found that trial length varies greatly in courts between and within States. The median length for civil trials ranged from 10 to 30 hours and the median length for criminal trials ranged from 6.5 to more than 23 hours. Some of the variation in trial length results from the nature of a court's trial caseload and how it selects and examines jury members. Therefore, courts trying product liability and homicide cases showed longer median trial times than did courts trying motor vehicle torts and burglaries. Additionally, courts allowing attorney voir dire had longer trial times than did those permitting only judge voir dire. Even with these structured differences taken into consideration, the researchers found that some courts are able to try their cases much more expeditiously than others. The study found that courts exercising a high degree of judicial management on the trial process are able to try comparable cases more quickly than are courts where judicial management is lacking. The researchers conclude that judicial management of all phases of trials is necessary. They provide specific techniques to shorten trial time and observe that greater judicial control does not appear in fact or perception to impair trial fairness. 7 tables and 4 footnotes.

Date Published: January 1, 1988