Gartin Building Courtroom with the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

Supreme Court considers time standards for trial courts

May 24, 2001

The Supreme Court has under study the enactment of time standards for trial courts. The standards are to encourage a timely review of pending cases and would allow the Legislature and the Court to determine where judicial resources should be used.

Time standards, if adopted, would be advisory only. The advisory standards would be a goal for Chancery, Circuit, County and Youth Courts. There would be no penalties for failing to meet the timetable in all cases.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin Pittman said that more than 142,000 legal matters were resolved in Mississippi's Chancery, Circuit, County and Youth Courts during the 2000 fiscal year. To measure the efficiency of the judicial system, it is necessary to have benchmarks regarding timely treatment of cases, Pittman said.

The Supreme Court has forwarded suggested time standards to all state trial judges and to other members of the bar for their comment.

The federal judiciary and more than 30 states have adopted performance standards for their courts. The United States Congress enacted legislation which required all federal district courts to implement "civil justice expense and reduction delay plans." A move toward time standards has been underway for years in other state courts.

Standards that Mississippi currently has for trial courts include the 270-day speedy trial rule for criminal cases and statutory time requirements for proceedings in Youth Court. Appellate courts also are required by rule and statute to issue opinions within 270 days from final briefing.

The Rules Committee is considering time standards from criminal and civil cases in trial courts. Examples include proposals:

• that 90 percent of criminal felony cases are concluded within 120 days of indictment, that 98 percent be adjudicated or otherwise concluded within 180 days of indictment, and that 100 percent should be concluded within a year of the date of indictment. The court is also considering adopting standards for the stages of a case. For instance, a proposed guideline calls for 98 percent of preliminary hearings to be done within 30 days of arrest.

• that 90 percent of civil cases are concluded within a year of filing and 98 percent be finished within 18 months. Consideration is being given to calling for all but a few exceptional cases to be concluded within two years of filing.

• that 90 percent of domestic relations cases are concluded within 120 days of filing, 98 percent within 180 days, and that all be concluded within a year of filing.

The Supreme Court, if it adopts time standards, will be able to identify where problems exist and determine if additional staff or additional judges are needed to handle local case loads.

The Court of Appeals is in compliance with the 270-day rule/law. The Supreme Court has on occasions fallen outside the 270-day rule/law. However, the Court is moving to improve the timeliness of its work.

The Court of Appeals averaged 183 days from completion of briefing to decision in the year 2000, while the Supreme Court averaged 213 days from completion of briefing to a decision being rendered.

Details of the number of cases decided by Mississippi courts are available on the Supreme Court web site at Click on the State Judiciary icon to view annual reports for 1996 through 2000. For more information, contact Beverly Pettigrew Kraft at 601-354-7452.