U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Justice Rationed in the Pursuit of Efficiency: De Novo Trials in the Criminal Courts (From Criminal Courts for the 21st Century, P 4-46, 1999, Lisa Stolzenberg and Stewart J. D'Alessio, eds. -- See NCJ-186588)

NCJ Number
David A. Harris
Date Published
43 pages
This paper examines the structure and operation of lower court (de novo) systems.
In de novo systems, defendants initially are tried in lower courts, which lack many of the basic protections associated with due process. A defendant dissatisfied with the lower court's verdict or sentence may request, and is entitled to receive, a brand new trial--a trial de novo--in the court of general criminal jurisdiction. In a new trial, all constitutional safeguards apply and all issues--legal and factual--are determined afresh. Lower courts receive virtually no oversight in the form of appellate reviews and attract little attention. De novo systems increase pressures on defendants to resolve cases as quickly as possible by making the exercise of constitutional rights, such as the right to trial by jury, more costly than single-level systems that operate without the trial de novo feature. The goal of de novo systems is efficiency and conservation of resources in the disposition of cases; other concerns are secondary. The paper argues that perhaps the best course is to eliminate de novo systems and process all cases through single-level systems, regardless of the seriousness of the offense. However, acknowledging that outright abolition of de novo systems is unlikely, the article describes a series of recommendations to increase the speed of operation, efficiency, and fairness of de novo systems. Notes