U.S. flag

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

Making the "System" Work in the Baltimore Criminal Justice System: An Evaluation of Early Disposition Court

NCJ Number
Michael J. Kelly; Efrem Levy
Date Published
29 pages
This study was undertaken to provide a review of the impact that the Baltimore City Early Disposition Court was making on Baltimore's criminal justice system since its founding in August 2000, and provide information on how improvements could be made to the system.
Early disposition court is a special-arraignment docket in district court, in existence for 18 months at the time of this study, for defendants charged with relatively minor, non-violent, victimless crimes. Its goals are to dispose of these cases at arraignment a few days after arrest, in order to concentrate court resources on major criminal activity in the city. Only 5.4 percent of arrests and 17 percent of ED Court-eligible defendants led to plea bargains, convictions, or other dispositions. This research analyzed the broader criminal justice system in Baltimore and was intended to be used to fine tune court operations and coordinate court objectives with those of other criminal courts to assure maximum benefits to the public. It is noted that a reason ED Court does not see more cases resolved is that its docket is filled with more serious cases than were expected. It is noted that a number of efforts, described herein, are underway to resolve such issues. Other efforts, such as building a degree of trust within the system, for example, by not using data as a weapon against other agencies, is suggested as being essential to problem solving. In conclusion, a simple metric is suggested for the legislature and the Baltimore system to use in measuring whether early disposition is being successfully implemented in Baltimore, with one means being the tracking of prayers for jury trials, making progress measurable, and providing a relatively reliable measure of the success of a variety of efforts to make the District Court more effective at adjudicating minor criminal charges quickly.