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New data: Courts cleared more criminal cases in 2021 than were filed

September 07, 2022 posted by Steve Brownstein

State courts cleared far more criminal cases—especially felonies—than they received in 2021, according to extensive preliminary data provided from the case management systems of state courts in 19 states.

The data provide insight into how courts nationwide have successfully prioritized clearing criminal dockets that were built up in 2020, when public health considerations prevented some courts from constituting juries and the pandemic forced courts to slow some proceedings.

The figures come from a just-released report from the Court Statistics Project, a joint project of NCSC and the Conference of State Court Administrators, which collects comprehensive, aggregate caseload data from state courts annually.

Across the 16 states providing outgoing caseload data, about 350,000 more criminal matters were resolved in 2021 than were filed that same year, reflecting the urgency that state court systems have placed on upholding the constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Additionally, courts cleared 25% more felony cases and 9% more misdemeanor cases in 2021 than in 2020, the year in which the pandemic presented the biggest challenges to justice systems across the country.

Overall, the number of new court filings across the 19 states was down 24% from the last pre-pandemic year of 2019.

The number of incoming felony cases in 2021 was virtually the same as in 2019.

Interestingly, there is little variation in the types of filings across the last three years’ worth of data.

Traffic cases represented 53% of all new filings, the exact same percentage as in 2019.

Meanwhile, civil cases constituted 19% of all filings in each of 2019, 2020, and 2021, though there were one million fewer contracts cases filed in 2021 compared to 2019.

The figures also reveal that only one case type—probate and estate cases—saw more new filings in 2021 than in 2019.

The 19 states reporting include many of the nation’s largest—including North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas—and account for nearly 40% of the total population.

Complete reporting on all 2021 data will be released later this year.

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