The court system plays a critical role in the judicial process, impacting which arrestees are charged with and potentially convicted of a criminal offense. The court system consists broadly of prosecution, pretrial services and detention, defense services, and courts of limited and general jurisdiction, and oversees the adjudication process for juvenile and adult offenders.
BJS collects data on the offices and systems critical to the adjudication process, including indigent defense services, prosecutor offices, and state attorney general offices. Data from these offices provide estimates of staffing, caseloads, and expenditures associated with prosecuting and defending cases in the nation's courts. Several specialized collections focus on specific issues affecting the courts, such as cybercrime and how cases involving juveniles are processed in state court systems.
BJS also examines the adjudication of civil cases by bench or jury trial in a national sample of trial courts. These data provide information on the characteristics of plaintiffs and defendants as well as case processing and outcome characteristics, including post-verdict relief and appeals.
Results from the Civil Justice Survey of State Courts, 2005, show that 61% of civil cases concluded by trial involved a tort claim in which plaintiffs alleged injury, loss, or damage from the negligent or intentional acts of defendants. Cases dealing with allegations of breach of contract (contract cases) accounted for 33% of trials, and real property cases accounted for about 6%. The most frequent kinds of civil cases disposed of by trial were motor vehicle accident (35%), seller plaintiff (11%), buyer plaintiff (10%), and medical malpractice (9%).
This is a question the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) frequently receives and, unfortunately, cannot completely answer. BJS can provide an estimate of the number of living persons in the United States who have ever been to state or federal prison. At yearend 2001, more than 5.6 million U.S. adult residents, or about 1 in 37 U.S. adults, had served time in state or federal prison. See Prevalence of Imprisonment in the U.S. Population, 1974-2001.
BJS publishes reports in the Felony Sentences in State Courts series every two years, providing the number of persons convicted of a felony in state courts in a particular year.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) does not have conviction and sentencing information by state. Court statistics for individual states may be available by going to the state court website for a particular state. See the National Center for State Courts site for links to state court websites.
BJS does collect national-level statistics on race for criminal sentencing in state and federal courts:
A. State court sentencing statistics:
- BJS compiles and publishes national statistics every two years on adults convicted of felonies in state courts. The statistics include information on the race or Hispanic origin, sex, and age of the person convicted. Demographic statistics of convicted felons can be found in two BJS publications series–Felony Sentences in State Courts and State Court Sentencing of Convicted Felons.
- Statistical table 2.1 of Felony Sentences in State Courts, 2004, indicates that, of the nearly 1,079,000 adults convicted of a felony in 2004 in state courts nationwide, 59% were white, 38% were black, and 38% were persons identified as American Indians or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander.
- State Court Sentencing of Convicted Felons, 2004–Statistical Tables, provides more demographic statistics on felony sentence types and sentence lengths. Table 2.7 provides the average sentence lengths received among persons convicted of a felony in 2004, broken out by the race of the felon.
- Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties, 2009–Statistical Tables, provides criminal sentencing data in the nation's 75 largest counties. Individuals arrested and charged with a felony in state courts are sampled from 40 of the nation's 75 largest counties. Within those counties in 2009, 45% of felony defendants were non-Hispanic blacks, 30% were non-Hispanic whites, 24% were Hispanics or Latinos of any race, and 2% were non-Hispanic persons of some other race.
B. Federal Justice Statistics series presents national level statistics describing all aspects of case processing in the federal criminal justice system, including adjudication in the U.S. district courts, sentencing, appeal of convictions and/or sentences imposed.
Terms & Definitions
Bench trial (nonjury trial)
Interested in Statistics?
Sign up for email notices of new crime and justice statistical materials as they become available from BJS.