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Specialized Courtrooms: Does Speeding Up the Process Jeopardize the Quality of Justice?

NCJ Number
Date Published
185 pages
The impact of specialized courts on the quality of justice was examined using data from three drug courts and a violent crime court.
The analysis used data from records and interviews with local officials and the family members of homicide victims in Milwaukee, Wisc., Charlotte, N.C., and Gretna, La. The research focused on the frequency of motions, frequency of judge and jury trials instead of guilty pleas, and the frequency of assessment of defendants for drug dependency and placement in drug treatment, sentence uniformity, and victim satisfaction with the court system. Results revealed that the drug and violent crime courts in Milwaukee substantially reduced case processing time, but the drug courts in Charlotte and Gretna did not. Few changes occurred in the indicators of the quality of justice. However, more defendants tended to plead guilty to the original charge after specialized courts were established. The establishment of the specialized courts had a minimal effect on sentencing. The data generally did not support the claim of critics that fast-tracked courts abridge due process rights and discourage consideration of the defendant as a unique individual. Differences within jurisdictions were minimal before and after the establishment of the specialized courts, but large differences existed between jurisdictions. Finally, the specialized court for homicide cases in Milwaukee resulted in a more positive court experience for family members. Overall, findings suggest that the effects of fast-track specialized courts on the quality of justice indicators were minimal. Tables, figures, and 29 references

Date Published: January 1, 1996