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How Long Does it Take to Process a Criminal Case in North Carolina?

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The Criminal Justice Innovation Lab recently released a report analyzing disposition and pending case times for North Carolina criminal cases. The full report is here. In this blog post, I discuss our findings regarding statewide disposition times as compared to Benchmarks developed by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). As we explain in the report, the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law & Justice recommended that North Carolina examine its current case processing time guidelines using the NCSC Benchmarks as a guide. We thus compared North Carolina disposition times against those metrics. As discussed below, statewide median disposition times in district and superior court, for all case types, fell short of the NCSC Benchmarks.

District Court

Non-Traffic Misdemeanors

In 2018, the statewide median disposition time for non-traffic misdemeanors in district court was 172 days. The figure immediately below compares statewide median disposition times to the NCSC Benchmarks.

Traffic Misdemeanors

In 2018, the statewide median disposition time for traffic misdemeanors in district court was 150 days. The figure immediately below compares statewide median disposition times to the NCSC Benchmarks, again showing numbers that fall short of those benchmarks.

Superior Court

Felonies

In 2019, the median statewide disposition time for superior court felonies was 259 days. As shown in the figure immediately below, statewide disposition times fall short of the NCSC Benchmarks.

Misdemeanors

In 2018, the statewide median disposition time for non-traffic misdemeanors in superior court was 209 days; for traffic misdemeanors it was 207 days. Both metrics fall short of the NCSC Benchmarks.

More Data

Our full report contains significantly more information. In addition to providing information about median pending case times, our report links to spreadsheets showing median disposition and pending case times at the county level in district and superior court for traffic misdemeanors, non-traffic misdemeanors, and felonies, across a range of years. The figure immediately below shows an excerpt from the superior court spreadsheet for felonies.

Tools for Improvement

Because we are focused on helping stakeholders promote a fair and effective criminal justice system, our report contains several tools to help jurisdictions understand and improve disposition times. First, to help jurisdictions understand how disposition and pending case times are changing in their county, our spreadsheets present information over a range of years, and show changes in median disposition and pending case times. In the figure above, the colored columns show those changes, from 2017 to 2019. Second, to help jurisdictions understand how they are performing vis-à-vis their peer counties, we categorized each of North Carolina’s 100 counties using a federal classification scheme for rural-urban jurisdictions. We did so because we understand that factors such as frequency of court sessions, case volume and number of court personnel, can impact case processing times. Our report presents figures showing the range of disposition and pending case times within these various classifications. The figure immediately below is one example, showing median district court non-traffic misdemeanor disposition time ranges by rural-urban classification.

 Third, to help stakeholders identify peer counties that they can learn from, for each case category we present a list of counties with the lowest disposition and pending case times. The figure below is an example, showing the counties with the lowest median superior court felony disposition times. Stakeholders wishing to improve case processing times may wish to reach out to their counterparts in these jurisdictions for ideas on how to address case delay.

Finally, because we know that stakeholders will have their own ideas regarding which counties constitute their peer counties, our spreadsheet contains a tool that allows stakeholders to compare their county’s performance to any county or counties of their choosing. The figure below, for example, compares superior court felony disposition times across three counties: Alamance, Alexander, and Alleghany. Again, however, the spreadsheet tool allows you to compare any counties of your choosing, for district and superior court, across all case types.

 Future Reports

The NC AOC recently released FY 2019-2020 case processing data. We already are working to update our report with that new data. We welcome your feedback on how we can make this information more accessible and useful to stakeholders.

One comment on “How Long Does it Take to Process a Criminal Case in North Carolina?

  1. After reviewing this report and reading the full report I believe your data is flawed. I recently requested data from AOC for matters pending in one of the counties of NC. The data included cases from 1986 ‘STILL PENDING’. No doubt this would influence the ‘median’ determination of the time it takes to dispose of matters. There is also a flaw in the conclusions, e.g., Tyrrell County have the ‘lowest’ median age pending for felonies. Tyrrell Co. is one of the smallest counties in NC based on population. They have 3 superior court trial sessions a year and admin superior every other month. There are often more than 60 days between terms. I realize what ‘median’ means but that is misleading where you a prosecutor could add 1 CRS case by way of bill of information and completely skew the ‘median’ age of all the cases for that year since there are maybe only 30 total felony cases in a year!
    Variables not mentioned when it comes to how quickly matters are disposed include: how many court sessions per county, judges who continue cases ad homonym, judge shopping, and how long the terms last.
    So, what’s the point. Is the IOG and innovation lab advocating for additional resourses? Additional court sessions, both district and superior? Additional judges? Additional prosecutors? Addioinal public defenders? Additional clerks? Certainly would be a good goal. But I doubt it. I think the goal is to establish what the NC Court System should look like, i.e., the ‘ideal’ court system as established by the National Center for State Courts. After all, the innovation lab led the effort to make secured bonds a rare event, even to the point that the magistrates in one of the counties around me was admonished by the innovation lab folks because the magistrates were issuing too many secured bonds! So now the local magistrates are under the ‘control’ of the innovation lab?
    Lastly, the North Carolina Court System is a unique system when compared to just about every other state. Beyond the fact that all the resources for the court system are controlled not by the county or districts but by a single governmental agency that was created to ‘support’ the courts. Are there areas we can improve? Sure. I look forward to invitation to assist in implementing any objective, relevant and meaningful improvements that don’t pose a potential threat to rights of the accused and rights of the victims, both citizens of NC.