After summarizing the findings from two studies of variation across courts in felony case processing time, this article suggests practices and techniques for streamlining the pretrial and trial processes, based on the experiences of efficiently operating courts.
One study collected data on case processing times and a number of structural and procedural variables in 18 urban trial courts. Wide variation in the pace of litigation across courts was due to variations in jurisdiction size, workload, caseload composition, trial rates, charging systems, and calendaring systems. A study by the National Center for State Courts collected data on case processing time and segments of the trial process for 625 felony cases tried in 1986 in 9 courts of general jurisdiction in New Jersey, Colorado, and California. Wide variations in case processing time were due to caseload composition and complexity, jury selection, judge's trial management practices, and attorney competence. Both studies indicate that sound management can make a difference in case processing speed and in participants' perceptions of fairness. Some proven techniques for reducing processing time without sacrificing fairness are early screening and charge decisionmaking, early appointment of defense counsel, early discovery, short scheduling, early resolution of motions, firm trial dates, judicial involvement in jury selection, continuous trials, and trial time management. 5 tables, 18 footnotes.
Date Published: January 1, 1988
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