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stats & facts: prosecutors, public defenders, and state criminal courts
Prosecutors

In 1996, half the prosecutors' offices in the U.S. employed 9 or fewer people and had a budget of $254,000 or less.[1]
The average budget for a prosecutor's office in 1996 was $1.5 million, and ranged from $21,000 to $255 million.[2]
More than one quarter of U.S. chief state prosecutors work part time.[3]
The median salary of a chief prosecutor[4] at the state court level: $64,000[5]
In offices serving more than 1,000,000 or more: $115,000
In offices serving under 250,000: $69,000
Part time offices: $36,000

(See "What Lawyers Earn," a chart published by the National Law Journal, for salary ranges for prosecutors in various counties across the nation.)

The median budget for prosecution: $254,000[6]
In offices serving more than 1,000,000 or more: $25,500,000
In offices serving under 250,000: $293,000
Part time offices: $90,000
In 1996, 2,343 state court prosecutors employed about 71,000 attorneys, investigators, and support staff; a 25% increase from 1992.[7]
Almost half of all state prosecutors' offices reported that they had a staff member threatened or assaulted in 1996. For offices serving populations of 1,000,000 or more, it was close to 75%.[8]
Over 95% of the nation's chief prosecutors are elected locally.[9]
The median length of service for a chief prosecutor is 6 years,[10]
Almost half of all offices reported the use of DNA evidence during plea negotiations or felony trials in 1996.[11]
Over three fourths of all offices reported proceeding against juveniles in criminal court in 1996.[12]


Indigent Defense Attorneys

There are three main methods for providing legal representation to indigent defendants: public defender programs, assigned counsel or contract attorney programs. States develop their own indigent defense systems based on one or more of these methods.

Public defender programs employ trained, salaried attorneys who are designated to provide indigent defense for a certain jurisdiction.

Under assigned counsel systems, an attorney is appointed either "ad hoc" by the court itself or on a rotated basis by a separate administrative body.

The contract attorney program is an agreement between the state or jurisdictional distract and a private attorney, firm, bar association or nonprofit organization. There are generally two types of contracts: fixed-price, under which the contracting defense accepts an undetermined number of cases within the contract period, or fixed-fee-per-case, under which the contracting defense agrees to accept a certain number of cases for a fixed fee per case[13].

28% of states exclusively use public defender programs to provide indigent counsel[14].
In 1990, state and local governments spent approximately $1.3 billion on public legal counsel for both criminal and civil proceedings[15].
In 1992, approximately 80% of felony defendants in the 75 largest US counties were represented by a public defender or assigned counsel[16].
Approximately three-fourths of inmates in state prisons received publicly-provided legal counsel on the cases for which they were convicted and imprisoned[17].

The average assigned hourly compensation rates for assigned counsel in 1997 were approximately $50 for non-capital cases and $70 for capital cases. However these figures vary widely, and many states have maximum caps. For example, in New Jersey an attorney would be paid $22.50 per hour for a non-capital case and $50 per hour for a capital case with no caps. In Nevada, a defender earned $75 for both non-capital (capped at $2,500) and capital (capped at $7,500). See Appendix 6 of the National Symposium on Indigent Defense's report "Improving Criminal Justice Systems Through Expanded Strategies and Innovative Collaborations" for a detailed state-by-state comparison.[18]

State public defender salaries vary across the country. In Baltimore they range from $39,250 to $112,710, while salaries in Cheyenne range from $47,787 to $86,808. Public defenders in Boston earn $35,000 to $117,000, while their Minneapolis counterparts earn between $43,000 and $83,400. See "What Lawyers Earn," a chart published by the National Law Journal, for salary ranges for public defense attorneys in various counties across the nation,

[Note: The last comprehensive national survey of US indigent defense services was conducted in 1982 and released in a 1986 report. On November 27, 2000, the Bureau of Justice Statistics will release "The National Survey of Indigent Defense Systems," which will: identify the characteristics of indigent defense systems; document how legal services are provided to indigent criminal defendants; measure caseloads, staff size and office policies among the states; describe costs, funding sources and administrative issues of indigent defense organizations; and describe how the indigent defense system interacts with the criminal justice system.]

State Criminal Courts

Limited jurisdiction courts outnumber general jurisdiction courts by 5 to 1. Limited jurisdiction courts hear misdemeanor cases and preliminary hearings in felony cases, while general jurisdiction courts are the highest trial courts in the state, and hear felony cases[19].
In 1998, there were 28,793 trial judges and quasi-judicial officers in the US state trial court system. 18,630 worked in limited jurisdiction courts, while 10,163 worked in general jurisdiction courts[20].
In 1998, 57% of states reported between 1,000 and 2,000 case filings per judge. 9 states reported over 2,000 filings per judge and 12 states reported less than 1,000.

Case Filings
In 1998, criminal case filings in state courts reached an all-time high of 14, 623,330. They increased 65% in state court systems from 1984 to 1998, and have outpaced federal criminal case filing rates since 1987. In 1998, there were 57, 691 federal criminal case filings[21].
In 1998, felony case filings reached an all-time high of 1.93 million. The 1998 felony filing rates among states varied by a factor of 19 when comparing the state with the highest rate to the lowest rate. From 1996-1998 felony filing rates increased by 10% or more in 15 states, and by 15% or more in 9 states. During this same period, felony filing rates decreased in 9 states[22].
In 1998, over 91 million new cases were filed in state courts - mostly due to a rise in traffic cases. Trends show that case filings are increasing at a rate 3 to 5 times as fast as the growth of the US adult population[23].
From 1984 to 1998, criminal filings in state courts increased by 50%. They increased by 65% in general jurisdiction courts and 44% in limited jurisdiction courts[24].
In 1998, 73% of the criminal cases heard in general jurisdiction courts were felonies. 15% were misdemeanor cases, 4% were DWI/DUI, and 8% were classified as "other" (examples being appeals, or miscellaneous offenses such as extradition.)[25]

Case Dispositions
In 1998, guilty pleas were involved in approximately 2/3 of criminal case dispositions. 1/5 of criminal cases were dismissed and 4% went to trial. Of the cases that went to trial, 55% involved a jury[26].
In 1996 (the most recent data available), there were an estimated 997,970 felony convictions - a 14% increase from 1994. 91% of these cases involved a guilty plea, 5% were convicted by a bench trial and 4% were convicted by a jury trial[27].
From 1996 to 1998 only 14 states cleared 100% or more of their caseload[28].
The American Bar Association has developed time standards for the disposition of cases - from arrest to judgment or dismissal. 90% of cases should be disposed with 120 days, 98% should be disposed within 180 days and 100% should be disposed in 365 days. In a National Center for State Courts study of 17 large trial courts, none of the courts met these standards[29].


[1] Prosecutors in State Courts, 1996 Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997. These are the most recent data available on state court prosecutors as of October, 2000. The next national survey is scheduled for early 2001.

[2] Prosecutors in State Courts, 1996 Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997.

[3] Prosecutors in State Courts, 1996 Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997.

[4] The chief prosecutor is the attorney who advocates for the public in felony cases and a variety of other cases.

[5] Prosecutors in State Courts, 1996 Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997.

[6] Prosecutors in State Courts, 1996 Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997.

[7] Prosecutors in State Courts, 1996 Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997.

[8] Prosecutors in State Courts, 1996 Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997.

[9] Prosecutors in State Courts, 1996 Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997.

[10] Prosecutors in State Courts, 1996 Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997.

[11] Prosecutors in State Courts, 1996 Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997.

[12] Prosecutors in State Courts, 1996 Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997.

[13] Spangenberg Robert L. and Beeman, Marea L. "Indigent Defense Systems in the United States" http://www.pili.org/library/access/law_and_contemporary_problems.htm. As published in Law and Contemporary Problems 58 no. 1 (Winter 1995).

[14] Bureau of Justice Statistics. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/id.htm

[15] Bureau of Justice Statistics. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/id.htm

[16] Bureau of Justice Statistics. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/id.htm

[17] Bureau of Justice Statistics. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/id.htm

[18] National Symposium on Indigent Defense, "Improving Criminal Justice Systems Through Expanded Strategies and Innovative Collaborations." http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/indigentdefense/icjs.pdf

[19] Examining the Work of State Courts, 1998 . National Center for State Courts, 1998. http://www.ncsc.dni.us/divisions/research/csp/csp-exam.html

[20] Examining the Work of State Courts, 1998 . National Center for State Courts, 1998. http://www.ncsc.dni.us/divisions/research/csp/csp-exam.html

[21] Examining the Work of State Courts, 1998 . National Center for State Courts, 1998. http://www.ncsc.dni.us/divisions/research/csp/csp-exam.html

[22] Examining the Work of State Courts, 1998 . National Center for State Courts, 1998. http://www.ncsc.dni.us/divisions/research/csp/csp-exam.html

[23] Examining the Work of State Courts, 1998 . National Center for State Courts, 1998. http://www.ncsc.dni.us/divisions/research/csp/csp-exam.html

[24] Examining the Work of State Courts, 1998 . National Center for State Courts, 1998. http://www.ncsc.dni.us/divisions/research/csp/csp-exam.html

[25] Examining the Work of State Courts, 1998 . National Center for State Courts, 1998. http://www.ncsc.dni.us/divisions/research/csp/csp-exam.html

[26] Examining the Work of State Courts, 1998 . National Center for State Courts, 1998. http://www.ncsc.dni.us/divisions/research/csp/csp-exam.html

[27] Examining the Work of State Courts, 1998 . National Center for State Courts, 1998. http://www.ncsc.dni.us/divisions/research/csp/csp-exam.html

[28] Examining the Work of State Courts, 1998 . National Center for State Courts, 1998. http://www.ncsc.dni.us/divisions/research/csp/csp-exam.html

[29] Measuring the Place of Felony Litigation . National Center for State Courts, 1998. http://www.ncsc.dni.us/divisions/research/csp/zippdf/Part%20II.pdf

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