The Association Between Case Volume and Case Processing Times in New York City

Published date01 October 2022
Date01 October 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2022, Vol. 33(8) 814 –842
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/08874034221089868
The Association Between
Case Volume and Case
Processing Times in New
York City
Kevin T. Wolff1, Olive Lu2, Preeti Chauhan2,
and Jonathan Leventhal2
Past research has highlighted a number of case- and court-level characteristics that
may be associated with differences in case processing time, yet other factors remain
relatively unexplored. Drawing on an extensive case-level data set of misdemeanor and
felony cases resolved in New York City’s court system, the current study contributes
to our knowledge of case processing time by examining the association between the
relative volume of arraignments (at the borough level) and case processing time. The
analysis employs standard regression techniques to assess the relationship between
case volume and case processing time while controlling for a number of individual- and
case-level characteristics. Results suggest the relative volume of cases coming into the
court system is positively associated with case processing time, net of several relevant
case-level characteristics. These findings contribute to the small and inconsistent
findings reported in prior work. Implications of these findings for future research and
criminal justice policy are discussed.
case processing time, New York City Courts, case volume
Case processing time refers to the time it takes to move a criminal case from arrest
through the various stages of decision-making to final case disposition, whether it be
1John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, USA
2Data Collaborative for Justice at John Jay College, New York, NY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Kevin T. Wolff, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 524 W. 59th Street, New York, NY 10019, USA.
1089868CJPXXX10.1177/08874034221089868Criminal Justice Policy ReviewWol et al.
Wolff et al. 815
dismissal, a plea, or trial (Zatz & Lizotte, 1985). Over the years, a number of court
rulings have emphasized the importance of avoiding court delays, highlighting there
must be a balance between meeting the needs of those facing criminal charges, those
who have been victimized, and society as a whole. Individuals charged with criminal
offenses have a constitutional right to a speedy trial as guaranteed by the Sixth
Amendment that involves freedom from oppressive pretrial incarceration as well as
basic procedural safeguards that assure fairness in the criminal justice process (Garcia,
1992). It is important to note, however, that not all cases should be disposed of quickly
and without careful thought and attention. Clearly, more complicated, more difficult,
and more serious cases should receive more time than those that are less complex and
carry less severe consequences. The idea of proportionality is intended to not only
maintain equality and due process in the treatment of cases but also acknowledge the
reality that resources are limited and must be managed (Ostrom et al., 2018).
Importantly, the time required for a criminal case to be processed has both human
and financial costs. First, individuals who are detained during the pretrial period, who
make up approximately 65% of all individuals in U.S. jails (Zeng, 2019), represent a
significant financial burden to the system. Furthermore, the individual and human
costs of lengthy pretrial periods can be measured in terms of lost wages and employ-
ment separation, mortgage/rent default, time away from families, and the like (Center
for Prison Reform, 2015).1 In addition, if cases are unnecessarily delayed or even too
brief, the costs (both to the system and the individuals involved) can potentially under-
mine the legitimacy of the justice system (Voigt, 2016). Thus, while efficient case
processing represents only one goal of the criminal legal system, in many cases it is
related to very real human outcomes.
Case processing time is also arguably related to possible case outcomes, such as a
plea bargain versus jury trial, as individuals who have been held in custody for longer
periods of time may be more willing to enter a plea than those who have not spent time
in jail, whereas those hoping for a dismissal or understanding of inevitable guilt may
wish to delay processing as long as possible (Petersen, 2020; Sacks & Ackerman,
2012; Zatz & Lizotte, 1985). Given this, examining extra-legal factors associated with
processing time and efforts to reduce unnecessary delays become central to providing
equitable treatment (Jacob, 1983). These concerns have contributed to court-driven
interventions such as the “Excellence Initiative” put forward by New York’s Chief
Judge Janet DiFiore, whose goal was to improve case processing performance across
jurisdictions statewide.
The question remains, however, whether there are other upstream factors (such as
the volume of cases coming before the court) that may affect case processing time. The
purpose of the current work is to examine the impact of system inputs (the volume of
arrests/arraignments by month/year) on case processing time in New York City, after
controlling for case severity, crime type, and other individual- and borough-level fac-
tors. First, we review the limited prior work on case processing time, presenting argu-
ments as to why the volume of cases may affect processing time net of all case-level
characteristics considered. We go on to highlight how changes in criminal justice
policy and enforcement seen in recent years may contribute to the relative volume of

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