Due to the human component of the court system, it faces many challenges. Some are historical in nature, and some are unique to this time period. One challenge is having adequate resources to administer justice in a reasonable, fair, and dignified manner. Courts must have a sufficient number of trained and qualified judges, adequate support staff, and acceptable physical facilities. The percentage of the criminal justice budget spent on the court system is relatively small in comparison to the law enforcement and corrections systems. The courts face the challenge of maintaining judicial independence when the legislature controls court budgets and jurisdictions. Elected judges are aware of public sentiment and often feel an obligation to campaign contributors. Court management positions have led to concern about increasing bureaucracy in the court system. Some individuals represent themselves pro se, which creates challenges by disrupting the courtroom work group goals of group cohesion, case disposal, and a reduction in uncertainty.
The expansion of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) began in the 1970s as an alternative to adjudication. It has now become institutionalized and is mandatory in many court systems. People utilize ADR for quick case disposition, lower expenses, reduced need for outside parties, and lowered court expense and congestion. The primary types of ADR are negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and hybrid ADR. Negotiation involves two parties resolving their differences through discussion and compromise. Mediation involves a third party helping the parties reach a mutually acceptable solution. Arbitration is a formal ADR method in which the parties agree beforehand that the arbitrator's decision will be final. Hybrid forms of ADR include rent-a-judge programs, med-arb, and minitrials.
The court system is challenged by gender and race. In sexual assault cases, women often experience double victimization. This has been handled through the use of female investigators, officer training, victims' advocates, and rape shield laws. Women are convicted of far fewer crimes than men, possibly because women are less criminally inclined or that the justice system is more forgiving toward women. There are instances where the justice system may be more punitive toward female offenders. Women experience more sympathy from judges and juries, though this has been lessened by sentencing guidelines. Historically, women have been underrepresented in law practice and the judiciary, though there has been a substantial increase in female law students, attorneys, and judges. Minorities comprise a disproportionately large percentage of people arrested and prosecuted, possibly because minorities commit more crimes or because criminal justice policies disproportionately affect minorities.
Scientific evidence is used increasingly to identify and apprehend criminal suspects. The primary method is DNA fingerprinting which is accepted as a reliable indicator of criminal involvement. DNA fingerprinting has placed focus on wrongful criminal convictions. The primary factors that contribute to wrongful convictions are eyewitness identification, false confessions, jailhouse snitch testimony, misleading forensic science, and prosecutorial misconduct. The court system has also had to deal increasingly with non-traditional issues such as the prosecution of enemy combatants.