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Justice Programs Office

BJA Differentiated Case Management Program



Under the sponsorship of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Justice Programs Office (JPO) at American University has launched the Differentiated Case Management (DCM) Initiative which has entailed the provision of technical assistance to over 100 courts in the development and application of DCM concepts to the criminal and juvenile caseload and subsequent adaptation to civil and family case dockets. The DCM concept has also provided the framework for the development of the numerous drug court and other problem solving court dockets that have been implemented over the past several decades.

Differentiated case management (DCM) is a technique courts can use to tailor the case management process-and the allocation of judicial system resources to the needs of individual cases. The DCM premise is simple: Because cases differ substantially in the time required for a fair and timely disposition, not all cases make the same demands upon judicial system resources. Thus, they need not be subject to the same processing requirements. Some cases can be disposed of expeditiously, with little or no discovery and few intermediate events. Others require extensive court supervision over pretrial motions, scheduling of forensic testimony and expert witnesses, and settlement negotiations. The early case screening that a DCM system promotes also enables a court to prioritize cases for disposition based on other factors such as prosecutorial priorities, age or physical condition of the parties or witnesses, or local public policy issues.

Inherent in the concept of DCM is the recognition that many cases can---and should---proceed through the court system at a faster pace than others if appropriate pathways are provided. Under a DCM system, cases do not wait for disposition simply on the basis of the chronological order of their filing. 

DCM synthesizes the past decades of development in the field now known as caseflow management. As caseloads increase and more judges and administrators acknowledge the importance of active supervision of case progress, greater attention has turned to methods for reducing delay, making the courts more accessible to the public, and improving predictability and certainty in calendar management. For the most part, the many techniques developed, modified, and expanded in this process tend to be "event oriented." For example, the concept of the pretrial conference was developed as a method for narrowing issues, perhaps shortening trials, and providing an opportunity to advance settlement possibilities. Mandatory settlement conferences were also attempted. The focus was primarily on creating additional and more useful case events.

More recent research and development focus equally (if not more) on control of time intervals between events and on methods to supervise, control, and make these intervals more predictable. As part of this focus, emphasis has returned to the recognition that, although cases may be classified by broad definitions, each case is unique. Further, minimizing and making more predictable the time between case events calls tor tailoring a disposition timetable to the characteristics of each case.

The premise that all cases are not the same and do not make the same demands is one that everyone accepts intuitively, but it was not broadly applied to case management until after the results of a demonstration program overseen by American University were released. In July 1987, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), Office of Justice Programs, of the U.S. Department of Justice launched a demonstration program to pilot test the application of DCM techniques to criminal and civil caseloads in the State trial courts. At the time, only one court in the country had introduced a DCM program. The Superior Court in Bergen County, New Jersey, had adopted a March 1986 a pilot DCM program designed by the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts. No court had yet applied DCM to criminal cases. The demonstration program confirmed the logic and benefit of differentiated case management for the trial courts and the usefulness of such programs for courts of varying sizes and caseload composition.

Representative DCM materials are posted on drug courts and problem solving courts.