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Trial Courts: Alternatives to Court

If you watch the many court shows on television, you might think that all disputes are settled in a courtroom. But the truth is that 50 to 90 percent of cases filed never even go to trial! Most cases do something called "settle". To settle a case outside of court means that the parties involved in the lawsuit reached an agreement on their own without needing a judge or jury to decide the dispute for them. A dispute can be settled even before a lawsuit is filed. Once a lawsuit is filed, it can be settled before the trial begins, during the trial, while the jury is deliberating, or even after a verdict is rendered. A settlement usually does not state that anyone was right or wrong in the case, nor does it have to settle the whole case. Part of a dispute can be settled, with the remaining issues left to be resolved by the judge or jury.

The primary method for reaching a settlement is through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Two common methods of ADR are mediation and arbitration. These procedures typically involve one or more persons other than a judge or a court to help resolve conflicts and disputes.


Mediation is a conflict resolution process where the parties talk with the help of a third person, called a mediator, who helps them find a compromise or a common ground on which they can agree to a solution. The mediator does not take sides or make decisions for the parties. In general, mediation is less costly and faster than arbitration or litigation (going to court).


Arbitration is another alternative to lawsuits. In arbitration, a third party, called an arbitrator, hears both sides of the arguments and makes a decision that the parties have agreed in advance to accept. These decisions are binding, just as a judgment in a courtroom is binding.

Plea Bargaining

Settlements can happen in criminal cases as well. Criminal cases are often settled through a process called Plea Bargaining. A plea bargain is when a defendant decides to plead guilty to a crime as a result of negotiations with the State/government. In exchange for the guilty plea, the State/government may offer to dismiss some of the charges against the defendant or recommend a specific prison term, or other leniency in sentencing. Plea bargains are subject to a judge's approval. Plea bargains are a very important and efficient way to resolve criminal cases. Today, approximately 85 to 90 percent of all criminal cases are settled through plea bargains.

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