Ground-Level Justice: How 97% Of Cases End In Pleas


In a series describing how the criminal justice system works at the “ground level,” the Los Angeles Times looks at the Norwalk courthouse, where every case is a felony. In the last six months, the numbers of felony filings in this part of Los Angeles County ranged from just under 1,000 in February to more than 3,400 in July. After an arrest, California’s judicial system is a march of many incremental steps: arraignments, preliminary hearings, early disposition hearings, investigations, reports, motions, and pretrial conferences.

Much of it is put in the files and entered on the court calendar under a series of deadlines that are supposed to make good on the constitutional guarantees of swift justice. In Norwalk, 97.2 percent of felony cases are settled in advance of a trial – usually as part of the daily ritual called “running the calendar.” Says the Times: “This is ground-level justice, community justice – the other side of the coin from the epic cases that make headlines.”


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