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January 2007

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


Workload of the Courts

The Supreme Court of the United States

The total number of cases filed in the Supreme Court increased from 7,496 filings in the 2004 Term to 8,521 filings in the 2005 Term—an increase of 13.7 percent. The number of cases filed in the Court’s in forma pauperis docket increased from 5,755 filings in the 2004 Term to 6,846 filings in the 2005 Term—a 19 percent increase. The number of cases filed in the Court’s paid docket decreased from 1,741 filings in the 2004 Term to 1,671 filings in the 2005 Term—a 4 percent decline. During the 2005 Term, 87 cases were argued and 82 were disposed of in 69 signed opinions, compared to 87 cases argued and 85 disposed of in 74 signed opinions in the 2004 Term. No cases from the 2005 Term were scheduled for reargument in the 2006 Term.

The Federal Courts of Appeals

The number of appeals filed in the regional courts of appeals in fiscal year 2006 declined by 3 percent from the record level set in fiscal year 2005. The courts of appeals received 66,618 filings. All categories of appeals, except original proceedings, declined. Before 2006, the number of appellate filings had declined only twice since 1959. The past year’s decline stemmed from decreases in criminal appeals and federal prisoner petitions following the filing deadline for cases affected by the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), as well as a reduction in appeals from administrative agency decisions involving the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).

Nationwide, the number of criminal appeals dropped by 5 percent to 15,246 filings, after rising by 28 percent in 2005 in response to the Booker decision. Despite that decline, the number of criminal appeals in 2006 surpassed by more than 25 percent the number of filings in the years before the Court’s decision in Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004). The number of administrative agency appeals fell by 4 percent to 13,102 because of a reduction in the number of cases that the BIA completed in 2005. Since 2002, the number of BIA appeals has soared by 168 percent. The number of civil appeals declined by 3 percent to 31,991 as the statute of limitations expired for the filing of Booker-related habeas corpus petitions. The number of prisoner petitions filed by state prisoners rose by 3 percent to 11,129 filings. The number of original proceedings climbed by 9 percent to 5,458 filings, as prisoners continued to file second or successive motions seeking permission to file habeas corpus petitions. The courts of appeals continue to receive petitions from the backlog of state prisoners affected by the Blakely decision, who must exhaust their state court remedies before seeking relief in federal court. Despite the year’s overall decline, the total number of appeals increased by 16 percent, or 9,063 filings, from 2002 to 2006.

The Federal District Courts

Over the past five years, the number of civil cases filed in the United States district courts has fallen by 6 percent, or 15,300 cases. The decline has occurred primarily in cases involving civil rights, personal injury, and Social Security claims.

Nevertheless, the number of civil cases filed in 2006 increased by 2 percent to a total of 259,541 cases. That growth occurred primarily because of a sharp jump in asbestos-related diversity cases in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Excluding those filings, civil cases declined by 4 percent from 2005 to 2006, as federal question cases involving prisoner petitions and civil rights dropped significantly. The national median time from filing of a civil case to its disposition was 8.3 months, which reflected a decline from the 9.5-month median period in 2005.

The increase in asbestos-related diversity cases in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania resulted in a 29 percent increase in the national figure for diversity of citizenship cases, totaling 18,179 cases. Cases in which the United States was a plaintiff or defendant declined by 15 percent to 44,294 cases, while those in which the United States was a defendant fell by 17 percent. The latter number declined because federal prisoner petitions decreased by 33 percent (down by 5,978 cases) as filings returned to levels consistent with the number of petitions filed before the Supreme Court’s decision in Booker.

The number of criminal cases filed in 2006 decreased by 4 percent to 66,860 cases and 88,216 defendants. The decline stemmed from shifts in priorities of the United States Department of Justice, which directed more of its resources toward combating terrorism. The number of criminal cases filed in 2006 is similar to the number of cases filed in 2002, when criminal case filings jumped by 7 percent following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Although the number of criminal case filings declined in 2006, the median time for case disposition for defendants climbed from 6.8 months in 2005 to 7.1 months in 2006. The median time period, which was 27 days longer than in 2004, reflected an increase in the time that courts needed to process post-Booker cases.

The number of drug-related criminal cases decreased by 4 percent to 17,429 filings. The number of defendants charged with drug crimes fell by 6 percent to 30,567 individuals. The number of immigration-related criminal cases, which rose to record levels in 2005, declined by 5 percent to 16,353 cases. The number of defendants charged in those cases decreased by 4 percent to 17,651 individuals. Most of the decline in immigration-related criminal cases is attributable to a decline in cases charging offenses involving improper first-time entry. Sex-related criminal cases climbed by 6 percent to 1,885 filings, and the number of defendants charged in those cases increased by 8 percent to 1,975 individuals. Criminal cases involving firearms and explosives cases declined by 6 percent to 8,678 filings, and the number of defendants charged in those cases dropped 5 percent to 9,800 individuals. For the second consecutive year, the number of criminal cases declined. The number of cases had risen in nine of the previous ten years.

The Bankruptcy Courts

The number of filings in the United States bankruptcy courts fell from 1,782,643 cases in 2005 to 1,112,542 cases in 2006. The past year’s number, which reflects the lowest number of bankruptcy cases filed since 1996, was 38 percent below the record number in 2005, when filings soared as debtors rushed to file before the October 17, 2005, implementation date of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005. The 2005 surge in filings accelerated until the implementation date, and more than half of the total 2006 filings occurred in the first month of the fiscal year. Non-business filings dropped by 38 percent, and business petitions fell by 20 percent. Chapter 7 and chapter 13 filings declined by 38 percent and 36 percent, respectively, and chapter 11 filings dropped by 10 percent. Chapter 12 filings rose by 3 percent, reflecting 12 more filings than the previous year.

Pretrial Services

The number of defendants activated in pretrial services, including pretrial diversion cases, dropped by nearly 3 percent from 99,365 cases in 2005 to 96,479 cases in 2006. As a result, the number of pretrial services reports prepared by Pretrial Services officers declined by more than 2 percent. The number of cases opened in 2006, including pretrial diversion cases, was nearly 6 percent greater than the 91,314 cases opened in 2002. During that same period, the number of persons interviewed grew by 1 percent from 63,528 to 64,018 individuals.

Post-Conviction Supervision

The number of persons under post-conviction supervision in 2006 increased by less than 1 percent to 114,002 individuals. As of September 30, 2006, the number of persons serving terms of supervised release after their release from a correctional institution totaled 85,729 individuals. That number constituted 75 percent of all persons under post-conviction supervision, compared to 73 percent in the previous year. Persons on parole declined by nearly 10 percent from 3,183 individuals in 2005 to 2,876 individuals in 2006. The parole cases accounted for less than 3 percent of post-conviction cases. Because of a continuing decline in the imposition of sentences of probation by both district court judges and magistrate judges, the number of persons on probation decreased by 5 percent to 25,178 individuals. That figure represented 22 percent of all persons under post-conviction supervision. Proportionately, the number of individuals under post-conviction supervision for a drug-related offense remained unchanged from a year ago at 44 percent.<

From 2002 to 2006, the number of persons under post-conviction supervision grew by 5 percent, an increase of 5,210 individuals. The number of persons released from correctional institutions who served terms of supervised release increased by 17 percent over the same time period.