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Examining the Work of State Courts, 1996: A National Perspective From the Court Statistics Project -- Drug Crime: The Impact on State Courts

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 1997
This annual report contains data and information from over 16,000 State trial courts, with the goal of translating court caseload statistics into a common framework to identify and analyze national trends in court activities.

The report shows about 87.5 million new cases were filed in State courts in 1996. The caseload comprised over 20 million civil and domestic relations cases, over 13 million criminal cases, 2 million juvenile cases, and 52 million traffic and ordinance violations. Between 1984 and 1996, civil filings increased by 31 percent, criminal filings by 41 percent, juvenile filings by 64 percent, and domestic relations filings by 74 percent. Traffic filings dropped 15 percent during this period. Overall, caseload growth during the 12-year period significantly exceeded the growth of the U.S. population. Federal court cases increased by 17 percent between 1995 and 1996 to a total of 1.9 million. The growth in Federal caseloads was in large part due to a 26 percent increase in bankruptcy filings. State courts added 900 judges and judicial officers in courts of general jurisdiction and 327 judges and judicial officers in limited jurisdiction courts since 1995. Most of this expansion, however, represented the addition of quasi-judicial positions rather than full-time judgeships. Roughly two-thirds of States could not keep up with the flow of criminal and civil filings, as evidenced by 1994-1996 average clearance rates below 100 percent. Tort filings decreased by 9 percent between 1990 and 1993, stabilized for 2 years, and then increased by 6 percent in 1996. The most rapid growth in domestic relations cases occurred in the area of domestic violence. The number of juvenile filings continued to increase and appeared to be strongly related to the size of the at risk population. Property offenses accounted for a smaller proportion and person-related offenses accounted for a larger proportion of delinquency cases in 1996 than they did in 1985. Felony filings increased by 75 percent since 1984, males comprised 85 percent of convicted felons compared to 48 percent of the adult population, more appeals were filed in State appellate courts in 1996 than in any preceding year, and caseload pressure continued to confront State appellate courts. The drug war of the 1980's, characterized by shifts in national drug control policies and an unprecedented rise in drug arrests, clearly changed State court workloads. Drug trafficking convictions comprised the largest proportion of felony convictions in 1994. Appendixes contain supplemental information on data collection methods and caseload statistics. References, tables, and figures

Date Published: May 11, 1997