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Impact of Drug Cases on Case Processing in Urban Trial Courts

NCJ Number
State Court Journal Volume: 13 Issue: 4 Dated: (Fall 1989) Pages: 4-12
J A Goerdt; J A Martin
Date Published
9 pages
This study determined that an intricate relationship exists between increasing drug caseloads and urban trial court management and that research is needed on the effects of increased drug use, stricter drug laws, and improved drug law enforcement on court management.
Data on drug caseloads and court management were obtained from 26 urban trial courts participating in the Large Trial Court Capacity Increase Program sponsored by the National Center for State Courts and the Bureau of Justice Assistance. Drug-related cases (possession, sale, and intent to sell) comprised approximately 26 percent of all felony cases disposed of in the 26 courts during 1987. Between 1983 and 1987, the drug caseload increased by 56 percent across 17 courts for which relevant data were available. Courts with the largest increase in drug-related cases and those with the largest total percentage of drug-related cases tended to be the slowest courts. The most serious other court cases (murder, rape, and robbery) required the most time from arrest to disposition and from indictment to disposition. Drug sale and drug possession cases were similar from arrest to disposition, although drug sale cases tended to take longer in the upper court than drug possession and other felonies. Some courts appeared to postpone the disposition of other felonies in order to expedite the processing of large drug caseloads. Drug cases, therefore, took longer to process than other felony cases in some courts but not in others. The findings suggest that courts can reduce their pace of felony case litigation, including litigation for drug cases, by focusing on early court intervention in case processing and a firm trial date policy. It is recommended that courts design comprehensive caseflow management programs and implement mechanisms for working more closely with nonjudicial agencies. 17 references, 5 figures.