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March 2006

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Legal Decisions, Legislation & Forces of Nature Influence

In fiscal year 2005, the workload of the federal Judiciary was affected in part by Supreme Court decisions, new legislation, and a force of nature. Filings of appeals and bankruptcy petitions reached record highs, while civil and criminal filings in the U.S. district courts declined. Caseload statistics of the federal courts are compiled by the Administrative Office. Statistics for FY 2005 and previous years can be found on the Judiciary’s website in the 2005 Judicial Business of the United States Courts at http://www.uscourts.gov/judbususc/judbus.html.

U.S. Courts of Appeals
For the tenth consecutive record-breaking year, filings in the 12 regional courts of appeals rose 9 percent to an all-time high of 68,473. The increase for FY 2005 was due to upswings in criminal appeals, administrative agency appeals, original proceedings, and prisoner petitions. The overall increase might have been greater if the Fifth Circuit had not been affected by Hurricane Katrina. Only 92 appeals were filed in the Fifth Circuit in the month of September 2005; the normal monthly caseload in that circuit is between 700 and 1,000 filings.

Criminal appeals jumped 28 percent in FY 2005 to 16,060, with growth in cases related to nearly all types of crimes. The most significant increases were in appeals related to drug offenses (up 31 percent to 6,099); immigration (up 55 percent to 2,896); firearms and explosives (up 23 percent to 2,505); and property (up 15 percent to 1,967).

Administrative agency appeals grew 12 percent to 13,713, primarily due to challenges to Bureau of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decisions, which increased 14 percent to 12,349. In FY 2005, most BIA appeals were filed in the Ninth Circuit (53 percent) and the Second Circuit (21 percent).

Original proceedings climbed 23 percent to 5,017 as state and federal prisoners filed 20,000 15,000 10,000 5,000 Appeals Filed By Type of Appeal Prisoner Petition Criminal Administrative Original All Other Agency Proceedings 2005 2001 2004 3,617 second or successive motions for permission to file habeas corpus petitions (up 42 percent) following the Supreme Court’s decisions in Blakely v. Washington and U.S. v. Booker.

Civil appeals remained relatively stable, declining 1 percent to 32,818. A 3 percent rise in prisoner petitions (up 473 petitions) was more than offset by a 4 percent reduction in other civil appeals. Appeals of federal civil cases grew 12 percent to 9,229 primarily because of a 41 percent jump to 3,709 in motions to vacate sentence filed by federal prisoners in response to the Booker decision. Prisoner civil rights cases grew 6 percent to 3,083 as a result of increased filings by both federal and state prisoners. Bankruptcy appeals totaled 865 (up 3 appeals).

U.S. District Courts

Civil Filings
Civil filings fell 10 percent to 253,273 in FY 2005.

The decrease in filings was largely the result of a 16 percent drop (down 26,545) in federal question filings in a single jurisdiction. In FY 2004, the District of South Carolina received more than 19,000 cases addressing personal property financial investments related to one bankruptcy case; only 27 such cases were filed there in 2005.

An 8 percent drop in diversity of citizenship filings, (down 5,433 cases) also contributed to the decline in civil filings.

Filings with the U.S. as plaintiff or defendant rose 8 percent (up 3,924 cases) to 52,386. Cases with the U.S. as defendant climbed 9 percent, as prisoner petitions jumped 29 percent (up 4,102 petitions). A 45 percent surge in motions to vacate sentence (up 3,224 petitions) and a 15 percent increase in federal habeas corpus prisoner petitions (up 760 petitions) contributed significantly to the growth in prisoner petitions. This rise can be attributed at least in part to the Booker decision.

Hurricane Katrina also affected filings. Civil filings for the month of September 2005 fell 29 percent in the Southern District of Mississippi, and 7 percent in the Eastern District of Texas, compared to filings for the month of September 2004.

Criminal Filings
Nationwide, criminal filings in the U.S. district courts fell 2 percent to 69,575 in FY 2005, and the number of defendants in these cases dropped 1 percent to 92,226.

Despite the overall decline, increases occurred in cases involving drugs other than marijuana, sex offenses, and immigration offenses.

The largest numeric increase in FY 2005 was in non-marijuana drug cases, which rose 5 percent to 13,102, as the number of defendants in those cases climbed 6 percent to 25,121. Immigration filings grew less than 1 percent to record highs of 17,134 cases and 18,322 defendants. Charges of improper reentry by an alien accounted for 68 percent of all immigration cases and 64 percent of immigration defendants. Sex offense filings climbed 9 percent to 1,779 cases, with the number of defendants climbing 8 percent to 1,828. The increase in sex offense filings stemmed primarily from growth in sexually explicit material cases and defendants, which both rose 18 percent to 1,102 cases and 1,112 defendants.

Firearms and explosives cases and defendants both fell 4 percent to 9,207 cases and 10,328 defendants. Fraud cases rose 1 percent; defendants charged with fraud declined 1 percent. A 61 percent increase in the totals was reported for identification document and information fraud, which grew to 1,069 cases and 1,388 defendants.

Traffic offenses on federal grounds dropped 10 percent to 4,140 cases and 4,142 defendants.

U.S. Bankruptcy Courts
Bankruptcy filings in the federal courts climbed 10 percent to 1,782,643, for a new record in FY 2005. The increase occurred largely in response to the passage of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Action of 2005. Many debtors rushed to file petitions before the law’s general effective date of October 17, 2005. The number of petitions filed during the three-month period ending September 30, 2005, was 542,002, an increase of 37 percent over the number filed during the same period one year earlier — and the highest number filed in U.S. bankruptcy courts in any three-month period.

In FY 2005, Chapter 7 filings rose 17 percent to 1,346,201 and constituted 76 percent of all petitions filed. In the final quarter of FY 2005, Chapter 7 petitions jumped 54 percent over the number filed during the final quarter of FY 2004. In FY 2005, Chapter 11 petitions fell 36 percent to 6,637. Chapter 12 filings increased 53 percent to 364. Chapter 13 filings, which accounted for 24 percent of all new petitions, fell 6 percent to 429,316.

Nonbusiness filings, which account for 98 percent of all fi lings, increased 10 percent to 1,748,421. Business filings decreased 2 percent to 34,222 during FY 2005.

Post-Conviction Supervision and Pretrial Services
On September 30, 2005, the number of persons under post-conviction supervision was 112,931, an increase of less than one-tenth of 1 percent over the number for September 30, 2004. Persons serving terms of supervised release after leaving prison, a total of 82,832 persons, grew 5 percent (up 4,238) above the number for FY 2004. Cases involving probation imposed by district judges and magistrate judges fell 8 percent to 26,554. Parole cases, including those involving special parole and military parole, decreased 5 percent to 2,778 and those involving mandatory release dropped 9 percent to 405.

The number of presentence reports prepared by probation officers rose by 109 reports to 66,227 in FY 2005.

The number of defendants in cases opened in the pretrial services system, including pretrial diversion cases, dropped less than 1 percent to 99,365. This total for cases activated was second only to the all-time high of 100,005 reported for FY 2004.

Pretrial services officers prepared 94,771 pretrial services reports in FY 2005, a rise of 1 percent. A total of 34,860 defendants were placed under supervision in the pretrial services system in 2005, a rise of 20 defendants over the number for FY 2004. Thirty-two percent of defendants in pretrial services cases were illegal aliens, compared to 30 percent in FY 2004.