BJS: Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
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How has the structure of state court systems changed over the past several decades?

Two of the more noticeable changes in the structure of state court systems are the development of intermediate appellate courts and the movement toward less fragmented trial courts. Most state court systems initially began with a single appellate court known as the court of last resort (COLR). In an effort to alleviate the increasing caseload burden on these COLRs, some state legislatures established intermediate appellate courts (IAC). Data on intermediate appellate courts and judges are available from 1972 through 2004. During this period, the number of states with IACs increased from 23 in 1972 to 39 in 2004. 

From 1987 to 2004, there was some evidence of trial court consolidation. The percentage of courts classified as limited jurisdiction courts declined from 67% to 64%, and the percentage of judges classified as limited jurisdiction dropped from 67% to 61%. In 2004, 10 states considered their court systems to be unified—a term referring to a system with centralized administration and funding and consolidated trial courts—compared to 4 states in 1987. See State Court Organization, 1987-2004.

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