Drug Cases in the Courts

Drug Cases in the Courts

Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. (Spring 2000). "Drug Cases in the Courts." Alaska Justice Forum 17(1): 4-5. The percentage of the federal court caseload related to drug charges had risen steadily since the early 1980s. The percentage of drug-related felony filings in the Alaska Court System has remained relatively steady during the same period, though the actual number of felony drug cases filed in Alaska state courts has steadily increased. This article presents figures on filings for cases involving drug charges for U.S. District Courts nationally and in Alaska, as well as in the Alaska Court System.

The available figures for federal courts show a steady rise in the percentage of the caseload related to drug charges (Table 1) since the early 1980s. Between FY 1992 and FY 1999 the percentage of drug cases as part of the total caseload more than doubled, rising from 13.3 per cent to 29 per cent. The actual number of drug cases filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide more than quadrupled, from 4193 in FY 82 to 17,483 in FY 99. Figures for case filings for U.S. District in Alaska do not reflect this national rise; in 1982 the percentage of total caseload was already 25 per cent and in 1999, 22.5 per cent. It has ranged from a high of 34.5 per cent to a low of 10.4 per cent.

Table 1. Federal Drug Cases Filed in U.S. District Courts - U.S. and Alaska

The percentage of total felony filings in the Alaska Court System which are drug cases has remained relatively stable since the early 1980s, neither rising nor falling significantly, although the actual number of felony drug cases being filed each year has risen steadily, with 342 filed in 1982 and 809 filed in 1999—a growth of 137 per cent. (The Alaska Court System felony drug case figures also include cases related to the importation of alcohol.)

Table 2. Drug Cases Files in the Alaska Court System

Because of changes in data systems it is impossible to assemble consistent regular figures on the specific charges associated with drug case filings in the Alaska Court System over the last two decades, but a cursory examination of data from 1997, 1998 and 1999 reveals that most felony drug cases are filed under AS 11.71.030 and .040—misconduct involving a controlled substance in the third and fourth degrees.

Alaska does not have a discrete drug court which solely handles drug cases. According to figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, at the end of FY 98, there were 430 such courts nationwide in operation or in the planning stages. The majority of those in operation had been so for less than two years. Plans to establish a drug court within the Alaska system have run into funding difficulties.