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Examining the Work of State Courts, 2003

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2004
This report provides comprehensive data and analysis pertinent to the business of State trial and appellate courts, including civil filings, domestic relations, criminal proceedings, juvenile proceedings, traffic cases, and appellate filings.

An overview of the court data for all the States, including the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, indicates that the State courts processed 96.2 million new cases in 2002, and two-thirds of State trial court cases were filed in courts of limited jurisdiction. A total of 15,588 individual State trial courts and 29,428 judicial officers handled the caseload. On average, States had 4 trial court judges per 100,000 population. Data from 10 States showed that the jury trial rate in general civil cases decreased, and the general civil jury trial rate dropped dramatically for 6 of the 10 States examined. Thirteen States reported that felony dispositions steadily increased while felony jury trial rates declined. Eight States experienced decreases in felony jury trial rates of over 60 percent. One section of the report provides detailed descriptions of civil case and disposition types; and the section on domestic relations cases encompasses divorce, custody, paternity, interstate support, and adoption cases. Approximately 15 percent of the total State trial court filings during 2002 involved criminal cases, up almost 4 percent from 2001. The report notes that court structure had an important role in determining criminal caseload composition, but population size did not determine criminal filing rates. Domestic violence filing rates were equally high in less populous States. Several States had felony caseload growth rates in excess of 20 percent, and seven States reduced pending felony caseloads. Very few felony cases were ultimately resolved through a trial. Other data indicate that 38 States and the Federal Government used the death penalty; on average, inmates remained on death row for more than 9 years; more persons were sentenced to death than were executed; States varied widely in execution and commutation rates; and death penalty cases cost far more to adjudicate than other criminal cases. Juvenile dispositions in the States were generally designed to both hold the juvenile accountable and address the problems that caused their delinquent behaviors. Traffic cases represented 60 percent of all filings in State trial courts. Appellate court filings showed a slight increase for the first time since 1998. A section on "State profiles" provides a basic overview of trial and appellate court filing rates for each State, along with the number of judges, population trends, and court structure. The format for each State profile is a descriptive table, caseload trend charts, and a set of court structure icons. Extensive figures and tables and appended supplementary data and information_x000D_

Date Published: January 1, 2004