The Need for Prosecutorial Caseload Standards

The Need for Prosecutorial Caseload Standards

Problem

Prosecutors across the country are facing excessive caseloads due to growing populations and increasing numbers of cases filed each year. Research shows that high caseloads lead to case delays, rushed plea bargains, errors, high stress levels, and burnout among prosecutors. Currently, there is no accepted standard for reasonable prosecutorial caseloads, leaving individual offices struggling to manage overwhelming workloads.

Background

Prosecutors in some of the largest counties in the U.S. handle upwards of 1,000 felony cases per year. Data from the largest prosecutor offices shows high caseloads directly impact outcomes. Overburdened prosecutors are less able to communicate with victims, contribute to backlogged courts, and force defendants who cannot afford bail to accept plea deals, even if innocent. Excessive caseloads also introduce disparities, as research shows minority defendants are more likely to get less favorable plea deals compared to white defendants when prosecutors are overburdened.

 

Policy Recommendations

  • A national caseload standard should be established for prosecutors, just as there is for public defenders. This would ensure reasonable workloads that support constitutional protections.
  • Prosecutor offices need adequate staffing and resources based on caseload data analysis. Optimal staffing allows prosecutors to thoroughly assess cases and pursue appropriate dispositions.
  • Pre-charge diversion programs could significantly reduce prosecutor caseloads by diverting low-level cases out of the criminal justice system when appropriate.
 

Key Takeaways

  • High prosecutor caseloads have systemic consequences for defendants, victims, and the justice process.
  • A caseload standard based on data would prevent violations of defendant rights.
  • Alternatives like diversion programs address the problem at the source, reducing caseloads.
  • More research-based solutions are urgently needed to tackle excessive caseloads.