Piercing the Veil of Statewide Data: The Case of Vanishing Trials in North Carolina


  • The author thanks the staff at the North Carolina Administrative Office of Courts for their assistance in providing the data for this project. Additional thanks go to the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge for Mecklenburg County, the Executive Director of the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission, and the Trial Court Administrators for Wake, Durham, Cumberland, Forsyth, and Mecklenburg Counties for their kindness and patience in responding to my questions.

*Department of Political Science, North Carolina State University, Box 8102, Raleigh, NC 27695-8102; email: moog@social.chass.ncsu.edu.


Marc Galanter's 2003 report to the ABA on the declining rate of trials in federal and state courts has generated a good deal of discussion. This article adds to that literature by narrowing the focus to the fate of trials in one state (North Carolina) between 1987 and 2005, and then moving to the next level to determine if statewide trends are replicated in the six largest counties in the state. Regarding jury trials, the downward trends are quite consistent at both the state and county levels, but bench trials present a far more complex picture. Although the status of bench trials in North Carolina remains unclear, the research emphasizes the importance of the data-collection process, and the necessity of looking to the local level to understand the complexities underlying what can appear as statewide trends.