Public Trust and Confidence Resource Guide

Public Trust and Confidence Resource Guide

Because the judicial branch relies heavily on public support to perform its role in our system of government, public trust and confidence is a precious commodity for the courts. While most people have at least a moderate amount of trust in the courts, this is unequally distributed, as minority members tend to express less confidence due to their assessment of fairness within court procedures. Furthermore, contact with the courts appears to make very little difference in court perception, as most opinions about the courts appear to come from the media, including news reports and television dramas.

Links to related online resources are listed below. Non-digitized publications may be borrowed from the NCSC Library; call numbers are provided.

Featured Links

  • The State of State Courts: A 2021 NCSC Public Opinion Survey. The 2021 survey finds that a majority of respondents believe that courts should continue to hold hearings by video because it allows them to hear more cases and resolve cases more quickly, and it makes it easier for people to participate without traveling to a courthouse, taking time off work and finding childcare.
  • The State of State Courts: A 2020 NCSC Public Opinion Survey. The 2020 survey finds two out of three people are receptive to appearing in courtrooms remotely—a significant increase from 2014, when only two out of five said they were receptive.
  • The State of State Courts: A 2019 NCSC Public Opinion Survey. The 2019 national survey, performed by GBA Strategies shows Voters are more concerned about the opioid epidemic than in an earlier survey, and courts can draw on effective messages to advocate for greater federal funding to combat it. Voters are more concerned about the opioid epidemic than in an earlier survey, and courts can draw on effective messages to advocate for greater federal funding to combat it. The public, and especially younger Americans, are heavily dependent on online news and social media as sources of information. Those who are older, and who have higher levels of education, are particularly concerned about disinformation campaigns that target the justice system.  Winning this battle will require finely-tuned messaging.
  • The State of State Courts: A 2018 NCSC Public Opinion Survey. The 2018 national survey, performed by GBA Strategies, shows confidence in state courts is the highest since the start of the State of the State Courts series (2014). The public strongly believes that judges should base pretrial release decisions on factors other than ability to pay. Additionally, a majority of respondents say they are unprepared to represent themselves in court.
  • The State of State Courts: A 2017 NCSC Public Opinion Survey. The 2017 national survey, performed by GBA Strategies, reveals consistency across the years on core measures of job performance and public trust in state courts. Access to justice in rural and under-populated areas is an area of concern. A majority believes that judges are not in touch with community concerns.
  • The State of State Courts: A 2016 NCSC Public Opinion Survey. The 2016 national survey, performed by GBA Strategies, found that public trust figures are at their highest in several years. The survey also found that there is strong public support for reform on issues related to court fines and fees, and considerable opposition to incarcerating defendants that are too poor to pay.
  • The State of State Courts: A 2015 NCSC Public Opinion Survey. The 2015 national survey, performed by GBA Strategies, focused on three main issues identified by the 2014 Survey: customer service, inefficiency, and bias. The 2015 survey was based on a poll of 1,000 registered voters and was also administered to an over-sample of 200 African Americans.  Across the board, African Americans responded to the 2015 survey with less trust and confidence in the courts than the overall sample.
  • The State of State Courts: A 2014 NCSC Public Opinion Survey. (2015). The National Center for State Courts contracted with GBA Strategies to conduct a comprehensive public opinion survey of 1,000 registered voters.  The survey was conducted by telephone between November 12-16, 2014.  Survey findings are considered accurate within +/- 3.1 percent, 19 times out of 20. Key findings of the survey include that courts remain the most trusted branch of government, court users express confidence in fairness of proceedings, but have doubts about customer service and job performance, there is a strong demand for greater availability of online services, and the public worries that politics undermines the impartiality of the court system.
  • Hulse, Rebecca. Catching the Wave: State Supreme Court Online Outreach Efforts. (2011). Future Trends in State Courts. State supreme courts have begun to grasp the many ways technology can connect the public with courts. This article will review some of the main trends in state supreme courts’ use of the Internet to educate the public about their work.
  • Reinkensmeyer, Marcus W. and Jennifer S. Murray. Court-Community Connections: Strategies for Effective Collaboration. (2012). Future Trends in State Courts. This article relates the efforts of the Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County to deliver effective community outreach. Ultimately, no single standing program can successfully maintain community outreach; rather, courts are challenged to pursue and coordinate a project-based approach, fostering both public education and citizen input.
  • Vickrey, William C., Nicole Claro-Quinn, and Martha Wright. Courts and Universities Partner to Improve Access to Justice for All Californians. (2011). Future Trends in State Courts. The California JusticeCorps Program is a unique partnership between trial courts and academic institutions that leverages national service initiatives, such as AmeriCorps, to expand court resources, improve service to self-represented litigants, and provide a unique learning opportunity for future legal professionals.
  • Buenger, Michael L. The Need for Solid Court Leadership: Reflections on the Fourth National Symposium on Court Management.(2011). Future Trends in State Courts. What must the courts do to adjust to the changing realities of an increasingly complex world? The answer requires establishing a well-defined governance structure; providing a uniform message not only to the other branches of government, but also to the public; and forging positive relationships both inside and outside of courts.
  • Larson, Susan Jennen. Public Access and the National Landscape of Data Regulation. (2005). Future Trends in State Courts. As state courts review and modify public-access policy in response to Internet technology and concerns about privacy, they do so within a new national landscape of data regulation that requires increased compliance, security, and accountability, not only from courts but also from executive-branch agencies and the private sector.
  • Marcus, Hon. Michael H. Smart Sentencing: Public Safety, Public Trust and Confidence Through Evidence-Based Dispositions.(2006). Future Trends in State Courts. A long-simmering, but often tacit debate questions whether sentencing discretion should reflect best efforts to reduce recidivism. Smart-sentencing trends embrace that responsibility and enlist a wide range of strategies in pursuit of evidence-based decisions that earn public trust and confidence through accountability for public safety.
  • Shelton, Hon. Donald E. Technology, Popular Culture, and the Court System - Strange Bedfellows?. (2006). Future Trends in State Courts. The technological revolution is now part of our popular culture and that popular culture is directly reflected in our juries, as it should be in a system that puts its faith in the people. The court system needs to find ways to keep pace.

Improving the Court System

  • Rottman, David, Hillery Efkeman and Pamela Casey. A Guide to Court and Community Collaboration. (1998). This guide seeks to inform judges and court administrators about what can be learned from communities establishing court-community collaborations.
  • Conference of Chief Justices: Resolution IX. (1998). Conference of Chief Judges: Point Clear, Alabama. CCJ Resolution IX - In Support of the National Conference on Building Public Trust and Confidence in the Justice System.
  • National Conference on Public Trust and Confidence in the Justice System: National Action Plan. (2000).
  • The NAP is a unique product in the sense that it is not a formal plan with a hierarchy of goals, objectives, programs, and implementation steps specific to one organization. It is, instead, a guide for national organizations that want to relate their strategic plans and programs to state strategies for building public trust and confidence in the courts, and for state and local organizations seeking information on public trust and confidence activities in other states and from the national organizations.
  • Warren, Roger. Public Trust and Procedural Justice. (2000). Court Review 37, no. 3: 12. In this article, the author "will...summarize current public opinion about the performance of our state courts, focusing on public concerns in key areas that implicate the fundamental values that courts embody."  Also analyzed in the article will be "key issues affecting public confidence in the courts, and the actions which must be taken at a national level to address those issues."  And finally, Warren "will examine the relationship between 'public trust' and 'procedural justice,' and the implications of that relationship."
  • Laura Kiernan. Risky Business: New Hampshire`s Experience Inviting Citizens to Examine the State Courts. (2008). Journal of Court Innovation. This article discusses a new strategy by the New Hampshire State Court system to involve citizens in matters of judicial reform. Kiernan's analysis involves the insights of several respected members of the court community as well as members from the National Center for State Courts.
  • Separate Branches, Shared Responsibilities. (2009). A  National Survey of Public Expectations on Solving Justice Issues conducted on behalf of the National Center for State Courts by Princeton Survey Research Associates Intl.

Public's Perception

  • 2006 Trust and Confidence in the California Courts. (2006). Judicial Council of California/Administrative Office of the Courts. This publication is a result of focus groups and interviews with the public. Areas of focus include: receiving and seeking information on the courts; experience in a court case: incidence and consequences; barriers to taking a case to court; diversity and the needs of a diverse population; fairness in procedures and outcomes; and expectations and job performance. (KFC950 R682 2006)
  • Lovko, Rae. Court-Community Relations Survey: Final Report. (1994). Information Services. Survey done of all fifty states in final report form done on community relations and projects. The purpose of these projects, such as "Meet Your Judges" forums, is to educate and ferment public trust in the court system.
  • Rottman, David and Randall Hansen. How Recent Court Users View the State Courts: Perceptions of Whites, African-Americans, and Latinos. (2001). A flurry of recent, and a large body of not so recent, state and national public opinion surveys reveal a consistent core message on what the public likes and dislikes about the state courts. Perceptions that courts are too costly, too slow, unfair in the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities, out of touch with the public, and negatively influenced by political considerations are widely held. Overall, more believe courts handle cases in an excellent manner.
  • Rottman, David. How the Public Views State Courts: A 1999 National Survey. (1999). Americans hold views about the courts in their communities that are in some respects reassuring and in other respects very troubling, and in still other respects contradictory. Overall, the courts received an average rating from the American public. The core of the courts’ positive image is the perception that courts meet their constitutional obligations to protect the rights of defendants, ensure that litigants have adequate legal representation, and that judges are honest and fair in their case decisions. The American public, as represented by the respondents to this survey, also approved of the courtesy and respect with which court staff treat those with business before the courts.
  • Rottman, David B. On Public Trust and Confidence: Does Experience with the Courts Promote or Diminish It?. (1998). Court Review 35, no. 4: 14. The author explains the two problems with the findings of the 1977 survey, The Public Image of the Courts. The criticisms are the lack of statistical testing and not differentiating between types of experiences with and knowledge of the courts. Rottman cites a 1997 Louisiana survey which categorizes the respondents into jurors, visitors, criminal defendants, court employees, etc. and asks questions about their perceptions of the courts.
  • Rottman, David. Perceptions of the Courts in your Community: The Influence of Experience, Race and Ethnicity - Executive Summary. (2003). This report addresses two questions fundamental to understanding contemporary public opinion about the courts. First, what differences exist in how African-Americans, Latinos, and Whites view the state courts? Second, what difference does recent direct court experience make in the opinions people hold about the state courts? The differences examined are in support for the courts, the perceived quality with which courts handle cases, the fairness of court procedures and court outcomes, and the willingness of individuals with recent court experience to return to court on a similar matter in the future. Reference is to the "courts in your community."
  • American Bar Association. Perceptions of the U.S. Justice System. (1999). The American Bar Association sponsored a comprehensive nationwide survey on the U.S. justice system among the general population. These findings were discussed at Symposium II: Public Understanding and Perceptions of the American Justice System (February 1999) among key educators, members of the judiciary and the organized bar, members of the media, and representatives of key community leaders.
  • Burke, Judge Kevin and Judge Steve Leben. Procedural Fairness: A Key Ingredient in Public Satisfaction. (2007). American Judges Association. Judges can alleviate much of the public dissatisfaction with the judicial branch by paying critical attention to the key elements of procedural fairness: voice, neutrality, respectful treatment, and engendering trust in authorities.
  • Roberts, Julian V., and Loretta J. Stalans. Public Opinion, Crime and Criminal Justice. (1997). Boulder, CO: Westview Press. This book includes chapters titled "Introduction and Overview: Crime in the Public Eye", "Public Knowledge of Crime: Myth and Realities", "Origins of Crime and Crime Prevention", "Sentencing and Parole", and "Gun Control".
  • Rottman, David. Public Opinion on the Courts: A Primer. (2000). Court Manager 15, no. 3: 9. This article looks at the levels of support for the courts among whites, African-Americans, and Hispanics. Rottman finds that as a general trend African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely to believe the court is not partial nor efficient compared to white survey respondents.
  • Rottman, David. Public Perceptions of the State Courts: A Primer. (2000). This "primer" summarizes and puts in context what survey research has to say concerning public opinion about courts, especially local trial courts. The emphasis is on topics relevant to the needs of court managers as consumers of public opinion surveys, while also looking ahead to "Symposium 2000: Meeting the Justice Needs of a Multi-Cultural Society."
  • Rottman, David and Alan Tomkins. Public Trust and Confidence in the Courts: What Public Opinion Surveys Mean to Judges. (1999). Court Review. In the past decades there has been a realization that the day-to-day lives of more people are influenced by their state courts than by the U.S. Supreme Court. State courts' decisions are rendered about our communities, and sometimes even our neighbors or us. Moreover, we seem to have moved into an era in which state court outcomes seemingly have as much impact on the nation as do most U.S. Supreme Court determinations.
  • Separate Branches, Shared Responsibilities: A National Survey of Public Expectations on Solving Justice Issues. (2009). Princeton Survey Research Associates Intl. for NCSC. This survey of 1,200 American adults is believed to be the first ever survey to measure the public’s perceptions of how the executive, legislative and judicial branches work together on public policy issues that affect the administration of justice. The poll was paid for by the NCSC, the Pew Center on the States, and the State Justice Institute.
  • Paik, Leslie. Surveying Communities: A Resource for Criminal Justice Planners. (2003). Washington DC: Bureau of Justice Assistance. This monograph describes the experiences of those who have conducted successful surveys that helped to develop the Red Hook Community Justice Center in Brooklyn, New York.  The lessons learned from the preparation, administration, and analysis of this community survey can assist other jurisdictions in achieving a better understanding of community needs and delivering more responsive programs to meet those needs.
  • Rottman, David. Trust and Confidence in the California Courts, 2005. (2005). A Survey of the Public and Attorneys, Part I: Findings and Recommendations summarizes the main findings and policy implications drawn from the analysis of a 2005 opinion survey. The opinion survey was sponsored by the Judicial Council of California to assist the council in its strategic planning process. Between November 2004 and February 2005, some 2,400 randomly selected California adults were interviewed by telephone; in addition, some 500 randomly selected practicing attorneys provided their opinions through internet and telephone interviews. The survey highlighted the centrality of concerns over the fairness of court procedures to the assessments made by members of the public about their courts and the distinctive experiences with and views of the court system reported by recent immigrants.