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Court Statistics Project releases trial court caseload trends

Court Statistics Project releases trial court caseload trends

March 6, 2024 -- While caseloads are inching their way back to pre-pandemic levels, certain case types like delinquency and traffic remain lower, according to a recent analysis of 2022 data from the Court Statistics Project (CSP).

During 2022, state courts handled 64.6 million incoming cases, which is a 2% increase over the previous year. However, when compared to the total number of cases in 2019 (83.2 million), there was a decline of 18.7 million cases.

“While there has been a gradual recovery from the unprecedented decline in state court filings since 2019, some case types, such as delinquency and traffic, remain well below the pre-pandemic caseload levels,” said Nicole Waters, NCSC’s Director of Research and Design.

The CSP is a joint project of NCSC and the Conference of State Court Administrators that uses comparable data sourced directly from state courts to publish national trends and analyze caseload statistics, providing useful insights that inform policy, budgetary, and court management decisions.

Between 2021 and 2022, there was an across-the-board increase in incoming filings for all major case types, including civil (5%), criminal (2%), domestic relations (2%), and traffic (1%).

Traffic Cases Fall off a Cliff

Traffic and local ordinance cases make up nearly half (30.3 million) of all incoming cases to state courts. While the Federal Highway Administration reports that Americans are driving as much as they did before the pandemic, incoming cases are down 29% from 2019 filings.

Waters stated that the traffic trend is so striking that starting next month, CSP will issue a series of findings that take a deeper dive into traffic trends to uncover the “drivers” behind this trend. CSP will also explore anticipated impacts and ways courts can respond to potential caseload reductions.

Juvenile cases experienced a decline in incoming cases from 2020 to 2021 but showed a 7% increase in 2022, mainly due to an increase in incoming delinquency cases. The number of delinquency filings in 2022 was still down by 23% compared to 2019.

There was an increase in civil cases related to real property, contracts, civil appeals, mental health, and probate/estate matters. Contract disputes comprised 46% of civil cases. Contract cases typically include employment disputes, landlord/tenant disputes, mortgage foreclosure, and debt collection.

Criminal cases slightly increased in 2022, showing a 2% rise from 2021. However, they are still down by 14% from 2019. Total estimated incoming criminal cases was 15.6 million in 2022. Of these, 11.5 million were reported as misdemeanor cases. This is an increase of 1% from 2021 and a 16% drop from 2019. Meanwhile, felony cases showed a 4% decrease from 2021, with 2.9 million cases reported.

The Court Statistics Project has been collecting annual caseload data for over 50 years and is the only source for comparable annual state court caseloads.

Read the complete report and explore the data or contact CSP staff for further details.