Approximately 843 justice of the peace courts were in operation in the State during fiscal year 1998. Each court was requested to submit a one-page report on activity of that court each month. Statewide, a total of 9,066 reports were submitted, out of a possible 10,116 for the year (a 90 percent reporting rate).
Revenue collected by the reporting courts during the year totaled $173,165,324, a 19 percent increase over the previous year. The amount of revenue per disposition, excluding dismissals, averaged $121.76 This revenue is deposited in the treasury of the county where the court has jurisdiction; however, certain court costs on each case are remitted to special funds of the State.
Criminal Cases Dominate Dockets
Criminal misdemeanor cases comprised 90 percent of total cases filed in the reporting courts; civil cases accounted for the remaining 10 percent of new cases filed. As Figure 1 below indicates, the docket composition for the justice of the peace courts has remained basically unchanged for the last ten years.
The 2,341,191 criminal cases filed during the year marked an increase of approximately 12 percent over criminal filings in the previous fiscal year. Traffic cases comprised 73 percent of criminal filings with the remaining 27 percent for non-traffic misdemeanors. Traffic cases accounted for 66 percent of all cases filed.
The number of civil cases filed in fiscal year 1998 rose slightly over 1997 filings. Forcible entry and detainer suits made up 47 percent of the 246,717 civil cases filed, with small claims and other civil actions comprising 25 percent and 28 percent, respectively.
The reporting justices of the peace achieved a clearance rate (total cases disposed / total cases added) of 86 percent. Total dispositions for civil and criminal cases increased four percent to 2,227,572 for the year ended August 31, 1998, compared to the 2,140,313 total dispositions in fiscal year 1997.
As Figure 2 below indicates, the majority of fiscal year 1998 case dispositions, 63 percent, occurred prior to trial. Most of these dispositions, 75 percent were by payment of fine. Of the remaining 351,698 cases that went to trial and were not dismissed, 98 percent were tried before a judge alone. Jury trials disposed of 4,403 cases. Ninety-three percent of criminal cases receiving a final judgment at trial, excluding cases dismissed at trial, received a guilty verdict.
The Number of Cases Appealed Increased
The number of appeals filed as a percentage of all cases disposed at trial for fiscal year 1998 ended a six-year declining trend. Approximately seven percent of dispositions at trial resulted in appeals during fiscal year 1992, while appeals resulted in less than four percent of dispositions at trial during fiscal year 1998. Criminal appeals for 1998 increased slightly more than 18 percent over fiscal year 1997 appeals, causing the end of the declining trend. Civil appeals for 1998 declined approximately 5 percent from civil appeals filed in fiscal year 1997.
Figure 3 below shows the trend of appeals filed as a percent of dispositions at trial for the last ten years.
Although the year
ending August 31, 1998 saw a rise in cases appealed, the total number of appeals filed
annually has decreased over the last 10 years while the total number of cases disposed of
at trial has increased. Since 1989, the number of dispositions at trial has risen
approximately 33 percent while the number of cases appealed has declined about 35 percent.
Conferences Held Prior to Legal Action
During the state fiscal year 1998, the reporting justices of the peace held 33,279
conferences prior to legal action. Of these conferences, 48 percent resulted in cases not
being filed as formal cases.
The reporting justices of the peace, in their capacity as a state magistrate, accepted 76,108 complaints within the jurisdiction of the county courts and 44,709 within the jurisdiction of the district courts (felonies). The number of county court complaints accepted increased seven percent over the number of complaints accepted in fiscal year 1997; the number of district court complaints accepted remained relatively constant.
Return to 1998 Annual Report