BJS: Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Publication Business of State Trial Courts

November 28, 1983    NCJ 91169

The myths are: that criminal cases make up the bulk of court business; most criminal cases filed are serious crimes (i.e., felonies); civil case workload involves mostly torts; most cases go to trial; most trials are conducted before juries; and most defendants are acquitted. When court business is defined as court filings, traffic cases make up the bulk of court activity, felony cases constitute about 7 percent of criminal filings, and tort cases make up about 5 percent of civil filings. Moreover, small claims cases and domestic relations cases make up nearly 40 percent of civil filings; most filings, civil or criminal, are not disposed by trial; and most trials are conducted before a judge rather than a jury. Most defendants plead guilty instead of going to trial; about 75 percent of criminal defendants who go to trial are convicted; and jurors convict proportionately more felons than judges, while judges convict a higher proportion of nonfelons. Finally, total court filings are increasing as much as five times faster than the population. Data are also given for court business when defined as serious cases and as contested cases. Caseload composition and demographic variables are noted. Data tables, figures, maps, and footnotes are supplied. (Author summary modified)


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