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March 2009

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


Workload of the Federal Courts Grew in Fiscal Year 2008

The work of the federal courts grew in all key caseload areas during fiscal year 2008. Appeals, civil, criminal and bankruptcy filings all increased when compared to FY 2007. The number of persons under post-conviction supervision and the number of defendants in the pretrial services system also grew. Caseload statistics for FY 2008 are available in the Judicial Business of the United States Courts 2008, on-line at www.uscourts.gov/judbususc/judbus.html.

U.S. Courts of Appeals

For FY 2008, the twelve-month period ending September 30, 2008, filings in the regional courts of appeals rose 5 percent to 61,104. The overall growth stemmed from increases in civil appeals of prisoner petitions, appeals of administrative agency decisions, involving the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), and criminal appeals of drug cases.

Civil appeals increased 4 percent to 31,454. In this category, prisoner petitions rose, increasing 9 percent to 16,853. Bankruptcy appeals fell 9 percent, original proceedings decreased 4 percent, and nonprisoner civil appeals fell 1 percent.

After a two year decline, administrative agency appeals grew 12 percent to 11,583, primarily because challenges to BIA decisions climbed 13 percent to 10,280.

Criminal appeals rose 4 percent to 13,667. An amendment to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines issued in 2007 reduced penalties for most crack cocaine offenses, and affected the number of appeals in non-marijuana drug cases.

More appeals were filed by pro se litigants in 2008, rising 12 percent to 28,055. The largest numeric increase was in pro se filings related to criminal appeals, which more than doubled. Pro se petitions filed by prisoners rose 9 percent to 14,993.

U.S. District Courts

The total filings of civil and criminal cases in the U.S. district courts rose 4 percent this year to 338,153.

Civil Filings

Civil filings in the U.S. district courts increased 4 percent to 267,257. This growth was mainly due to a 22 percent increase in diversity of citizenship filings (up 15,838) cases. The rise in diversity of citizenship filings can be traced to the number of personal injury cases related to asbestos and diet drugs filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which caused filings to swell by more than 19,500 cases.

Federal question filings dropped 3 percent to 134,582. Personal injury federal question filings declined 46 percent as a result of large decreases in the Southern District of New York, where personal injury cases were down after a surge of filings related to September 11, 2001, and in the Northern District of Alabama, where filings of labor law cases fell after an increase in 2007. Copyright cases declined 27 percent nationally.

Filings with the United States as plaintiff remained relatively stable, rising less than 1 percent. A 10 percent increase in defaulted student loan cases was offset by reductions in civil rights cases and labor law cases. Cases with the United States as defendant dropped 4 percent as filings of federal habeas corpus prisoner petitions decreased 4 percent.

The number of civil filings per authorized judgeship climbed from 380 to 394, consistent with the 4 percent increase in overall civil filings.

Criminal Filings

Criminal case filings in the U.S. district courts rose 4 percent in 2008 to 70,896, and the number of defendants climbed 3 percent to 92,355. Increases occurred in cases related to immigration and sex offenses.

Immigration case filings jumped 27 percent to 21,313, and defendants in those cases rose 26 percent to 22,685. The growth in immigration cases resulted mostly from filings addressing improper reentry by aliens and filings involving fraud and misuse of visa/permit. The charge of improper reentry by an alien accounted for 73 percent of all immigration cases and 69 percent of immigration defendants. Seventy-two percent of all immigration cases were filed in the five southwestern border districts—the District of Arizona, Southern District of California, District of New Mexico, and the Southern and Western Districts of Texas.

Sex offense case filings grew 9 percent to 2,674, and defendants in such cases climbed 7 percent to 2,760.

Overall, drug cases dropped 7 percent to 15,784, and defendants charged with drug crimes fell 3 percent to 28,932. Fraud cases declined 4 percent to 7,746, and defendants in these cases dropped 1 percent to 10,680. Filings of firearms cases fell 3 percent to 8,045, and defendants declined 4 percent to 9,068.

The number of criminal filings per authorized judgeship grew from 101 in 2007 to 105 in 2008.

U.S. Bankruptcy Courts

The long-term effects of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA) remain uncertain, but during the second complete fiscal year following the implementation of the law, bankruptcy filings continued to increase. During 2008, filings in the U.S. bankruptcy courts rose 30 percent over FY 07 to a total of 1,042,993.

Chapter 7 cases accounted for 65 percent of all cases filed in 2008, compared to 60 percent in 2007. Chapter 7 cases rose 40 percent to 679,982, climbing in 90 of the 94 districts. Chapter 13 filings rose 14 percent to 353,828; Chapter 11 petitions rose 49 percent to 8,799; and Chapter 12 filings decreased 8 percent to 332.

During 2008, filings by debtors with predominantly nonbusiness debts rose 30 percent to 1,004,342. Filings by debtors with predominantly business debts increased 49 percent to 38,650 during 2008.

Pretrial Services and Post-Conviction Supervision

The number of cases opened in the pretrial services system rose from 97,905 cases in 2007 to 99,675 cases in 2008, an increase of 2 percent. Pretrial Services Officers prepared 95,663 pretrial services reports, an increase of 2 percent. Nearly 93 percent of these reports were pre-bail reports. A total of 32,085 defendants were placed under supervision in the pretrial services system. Thirty-seven percent of defendants in the pretrial services system were illegal aliens, up 3 percent from 2007.

In 2008, 33,533 defendants were released with specified conditions such as pretrial services supervision or home confinement. Pretrial services supervision was imposed on 91 percent of defendants released. Substance abuse treatment and testing were ordered for slightly more than 31 percent of the defendants.

On September 30, 2008, the number of persons under post-conviction supervision was 120,676, an increase of nearly 4 percent over the 116,221 persons under supervision on the same date in 2007. Persons released from correctional institutions who were serving terms of supervised release rose more than 6 percent from 89,497 in 2007 to 95,159 in 2008. They accounted for 79 percent of all persons under supervision. Technical violations accounted for slightly more than 61 percent of the 13,459 revocations reported in 2008. Revocations for new offenses accounted for 39 percent of revocations.