Rush to Judgement: Understanding the Impact of Early Case Resolution on the Pace of Litigation and Quality of Justice
Block, Lauren M.
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The court system in the United States has long suffered from a slow pace of litigation and its many consequences. Decades of research has concluded that the pace of litigation is by no means static and that certain case management methods targeted at reducing delay in the courts by utilizing court time and resources more efficiently can be successful. The Early Case Resolution program implemented in Spokane County Superior Court utilizes early case screening, strict deadlines, and a specialized workgroup in an attempt to create a faster pace of litigation for selected felonies and misdemeanors. However, in the pursuit of a faster pace of litigation the program also raises concerns about the potential compromise of the quality of justice due to an expedited case processing timeline, the exclusive use of guilty pleas as the mode of disposition, and limits on the adversarial process. By comparing case processing and outcomes for cases processed through the Early Case Resolution program to similarly-situated cases disposed of through traditional court prior to the implementation of the program, the current study provides a preliminary examination of the Early Case Resolution program to determine whether it is impacting the pace of litigation and whether the program is having unintended consequences on the quality of justice dispensed by the court. Propensity Score Matching was utilized to compensate for selection bias present in the treatment and comparison samples. This study found that while the Early Case Resolution program does reduce the number of days from case filing to case disposition for selected cases, it appears to do so by engaging in frequent instances of plea bargaining that result in less severe sentences for defendants selected for the program. In addition, the study found that while the Early Case Resolution program does have a lower rate of pretrial misconduct, those defendants who still engage in pretrial misconduct may be problematic for the court’s attempt to save time and resources. Future studies on the impact of the Early Case Resolution program on recidivism rates and the use of the county jail for pretrial detention and punishment are suggested.