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U.S. District Courts

Combined filings of civil cases and criminal defendants in the district courts fell 5 percent to 372,563. Overall terminations for civil cases and criminal defendants declined 9 percent to 369,300 (this total does not include the 117,951 defendants in petty offense cases disposed of by magistrate judges). The total number of pending civil cases and criminal defendants remained stable, rising by 2,605 to 382,068 (up less than 1 percent).

Civil Filings

Filings of civil cases in the U.S. district courts declined 4 percent to 278,442 (down by 10,810 cases). This caused civil filings per authorized judgeship to decrease from 427 to 411. The reduction was driven mainly by a 15 percent drop in cases involving diversity of citizenship (down by 15,624 cases).

Diversity of citizenship filings decreased primarily because of a 60 percent decline in filings of multidistrict litigation (MDL) cases related to asbestos (down by 22,561 cases). Nearly all of this change took place in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which had 22,490 fewer asbestos case filings this year.

Filings with the United States as plaintiff fell 18 percent (down by 1,939 cases). The main reason was a 39 percent drop in defaulted student loan cases (down by 1,666 filings), which had soared 58 percent in 2011.

Filings with the United States as defendant rose 8 percent (up by 2,762 cases) to 38,834. Prisoner petitions consisting of motions to vacate sentence grew 36 percent (up by 2,239 cases). Growth occurred in 70 of the 94 district courts, largely in response to United States v. Simmons, 649 F.3d 237 (4th Cir. 2011) (en banc). This ruling reversed a previous decision considering a prior state conviction a “felony drug offense” for purposes of imposing an enhanced sentence under federal law. Filings in district courts in the Fourth Circuit alone leaped from 1,011 to 2,200. Social Security filings grew 12 percent (up by 1,940 cases) as supplemental security income filings climbed by 1,072 cases, and disability filings increased by 708 cases.

Civil case terminations fell 10 percent to 271,572. The Eastern District of Pennsylvania terminated fewer asbestos cases this year (down from 50,766 in 2011 to 19,328 in 2012). The Southern District of New York terminated 9,902 cases, most of them related to the terrorist-related aircraft crashes on September 11, 2001. The Eastern District of Louisiana terminated 3,871 cases, most of which were MDL cases involving the arthritis pain drug Vioxx, Hurricane Katrina, or the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Table 3
U.S. District Courts
Civil Cases Filed, Terminated, and Pending
Fiscal Years 2008 - 2012
Filed
Year Authorized
Judgeships
Total Cases
per
Judgeship
Contract
Actions
Prisoner
Petitions
Personal
Injury
Cases
All
Other Cases
Terminated Pending
2008 678 267,257 394 34,172 55,271 68,121 109,693 234,571 294,122
2009 678 276,397 408 35,634 53,187 72,897 114,679 263,703 311,353
2010 678 282,895 417 31,109 52,583 78,350 120,853 309,759 284,6011
2011 677 289,252 427 32,306 53,611 73,750 129,585 303,158 267,4951
2012 677 278,442 411 28,713 54,300 57,151 138,278 271,572 274,365
Percent Change
2011 - 2012
-3.7 -11.1 1.3 -22.5 8.7 -10.4 2.6
1 Revised.
Table 4
U.S. District Courts
Civil Cases Filed, by Jurisdiction
Fiscal Years 2008 - 2012
Year Total U.S.
Plaintiff
U.S.
Defendant
Federal
Question
Diversity of
Citizenship
Local
Jurisdiction
2008 267,257 9,649 34,515 134,582 88,457 54
2009 276,397 8,834 34,310 136,041 97,209 3
2010 282,895 8,672 34,365 138,655 101,202 1
2011 289,252 10,797 36,072 141,013 101,366 4
2012 278,442 8,858 38,834 145,007 85,742 1
Percent Change
2011 - 20121
-3.7 -18.0 7.7 2.8 -15.4
1 Percent change not computed when fewer than 10 cases reported for the previous period.

The median time from filing to disposition for civil cases was 7.8 months, up from 7.3 months in 2011. Pending civil cases increased 3 percent to 274,365. Growth in pending MDL cases related to pelvic repair products was reported in the Southern District of West Virginia (up by 5,500 cases). MDL cases involving hip implants led to higher pending caseloads in the Northern District of Ohio (up by 3,904 cases) and the Northern District of Texas (up by 2,161 cases). In the Southern District of Illinois, pending cases rose by 2,098 cases, mainly because of cases alleging injuries from contraceptives.

Since 2008, civil filings in the district courts have risen 4 percent (up by 11,185 cases). Growth has occurred in cases involving real property, civil rights, consumer credit, Social Security, labor laws, and intellectual property rights. During the same period, district courts reported declines in civil filings related to personal injury, contracts, and prisoner petitions.

For data on civil cases in the U.S. district courts, see Tables 3 and 4 and the C series of tables.

Criminal Filings

Filings for criminal defendants (including defendants transferred from other districts) fell 9 percent from last year’s all-time high of 102,931 defendants to 94,121 in 2012. Terminations for defendants decreased 4 percent to 97,728. Excluding transfers, terminations occurred for 97,445 defendants, of whom 88,878 (91 percent) were convicted, including the 86,730 (89 percent) who pled guilty. The median time from filing to disposition for criminal defendants rose from 6.4 months in 2011 to 6.7 months in 2012. As terminations exceeded filings, the number for defendants pending (including transfers) dropped 4 percent to 107,703.

Defendant filings (excluding transfers) decreased for nearly every major offense category, including traffic offenses, property offenses, general offenses, immigration offenses, drug offenses, sex offenses, justice system offenses, and violent offenses. Increases were reported for defendants charged with firearms offenses and regulatory offenses.

Crimes associated with drugs continued to be the offenses most often prosecuted in the district courts and once again accounted for 31 percent of total defendant filings. Defendants charged with crimes involving marijuana fell 13 percent to 7,340 as filings related to the sale, distribution, or dispensing of marijuana decreased 20 percent to 4,693. Defendants charged with non-marijuana drug offenses declined 6 percent to 22,101 (down by 1,426 filings). Defendant filings involving the sale, distribution, or dispensing of drugs other than marijuana dropped 7 percent to 19,271 (down by 1,496 filings).

Defendants charged with immigration offenses, which constituted 27 percent of total criminal defendant filings, decreased 10 percent to 25,328. Aliens accused of improper reentry (83 percent of all immigration defendant filings) fell 10 percent to 21,091. Filings in the five southwestern border districts accounted for 74 percent of the nation’s immigration defendant filings. Immigration defendant filings dropped 29 percent in the District of Arizona, 8 percent in the Southern District of Texas, 8 percent in the Southern District of California, and 3 percent in the District of New Mexico. They rose 1 percent in the Western District of Texas.

Percent Change in Criminal Defendant Filings, by District

Twelve-Month Period Ending September 30, 2012
Percent Change in Criminal Defendant Filings, by District
Click map for high-resolution download (pdf)

Elimination of Criminal Case Tables

Because single-case profiles often do not capture the characteristics and complexity of multi-defendant cases, the following tables for criminal cases in the district courts are no longer being created and published:

  • Table D-1: Criminal Cases Commenced, Terminated, and Pending
  • Table D-2: Criminal Cases Commenced, by Offense
  • Table D-3: Criminal Cases Commenced, by Offense and District
  • Table D-13: Criminal Cases Commenced, by Type of Proceedings

Table D: Cases Commenced, Terminated, and Pending is still being produced, as are all tables presenting data on criminal defendants in the district courts.

The number of defendants charged with property offenses decreased 13 percent to 15,264. Fraud offense defendant filings, which constituted 12 percent of total criminal defendant filings and 72 percent of property offense defendant filings, dropped 15 percent to 11,022. The most notable decline occurred in filings involving fraud related to identification documents and information, which fell 42 percent to 1,678. This type of fraud usually is associated with immigration law violations.

Traffic offense filings, which amounted to 4 percent of total defendant filings, went down 18 percent. Sex offense defendants, which accounted for 3 percent of total defendant filings, dropped 7 percent, and violent offense defendants, which also accounted for 3 percent of total defendant filings, decreased 1 percent. Filings involving general offenses (i.e., public order crimes, such as prostitution), which constituted 2 percent of total defendant filings, declined 12 percent. Filings associated with justice system offenses (i.e., crimes related to judicial proceedings, such as obstruction of justice or failure to appear), which equaled 1 percent of total defendant filings, fell 5 percent.

Defendants charged with firearms offenses rose 5 percent to 8,695 and accounted for 9 percent of total defendant filings. Regulatory offense filings increased 1 percent and constituted 2 percent of total defendant filings.

Table 5
U.S. District Courts
Criminal Defendants Filed, Terminated, and Pending (Including Transfers)
Fiscal Years 2008 - 2012
Filed
Year Authorized
Judgeships
Total Defendants per
Judgeship
Drugs1 Terminated Pending2
2008 678 92,355 136 28,932 91,817 101,936
2009 678 92,355 145 30,144 95,598 105,723
2010 678 100,366 148 29,410 98,666 109,187
2011 677 102,931 152 32,062 101,454 111,968
2012 677 94,121 139 29,543 97,728 107,703
Percent Change
2011 - 2012
-8.6 -7.9 -3.7 -3.8
1 Defendants charged with drug offenses. Data exclude transfers.
2 Pending totals exclude defendants who were fugitives for more than one year.

Since 2008, filings for criminal defendants (including transfers) have increased 2 percent. Over the last five years, filings involving immigration offenses (excluding transfers) have grown 12 percent and increased from 25 percent of total defendant filings to 27 percent. Immigration offense defendants have been concentrated in the five southwestern border districts, which accounted for 74 percent of total immigration defendant filings in 2012, up from 71 percent five years earlier. This year marked the first time since 2006 that terminations for defendants exceeded filings, resulting in a decrease in the number of pending criminal defendants.

For data on criminal defendants in the district courts, see Table 5 and the D Series of tables.

Trials Completed

The number of civil and criminal trials completed in the district courts by active and senior Article III judges fell 3 percent to 13,446 (down by 364 trials). For statistical purposes, district court trials include proceedings resulting in jury verdicts and other final judgments by the courts, as well as other contested hearings at which evidence is presented.

Overall criminal trials decreased 6 percent to 7,968 (down by 485 trials) as 48 districts reported fewer criminal trials. Criminal nonjury trials dropped 6 percent to 5,410 (down by 316 trials), with 49 districts reporting smaller numbers of these trials. Criminal jury trials also dropped 6 percent, decreasing by 169 trials to 2,558, with 46 districts reporting reductions in trials. Article III judges accepted guilty pleas from 79,423 felony defendants, down 2 percent from 80,767 in 2011.

Overall civil trials increased 2 percent to 5,478 (up by 121 trials) as 41 district courts reported more civil trials. Civil nonjury trials rose 2 percent to 3,342 (up by 68 trials), with 40 district courts reporting higher numbers of these trials. Civil jury trials climbed 3 percent to 2,136 (up by 53 trials) as 39 district courts reported growth in such trials.

In addition to trials conducted by active and senior Article III judges, 7,608 trials were conducted by magistrate judges, a rise of 20 percent (up by 1,249 trials). These comprised 3,336 petty offense trials, 499 civil consent trials, 81 misdemeanor trials, and 3,692 evidentiary hearings.

Judges conduct many other proceedings in courtrooms in addition to trials, including hearings on motions for summary judgment and other motions, calendar calls, preliminary proceedings in criminal cases, hearings on sentencing issues, Daubert hearings on expert witnesses, and evidentiary hearings in supervised release and probation revocation proceedings. They are also heavily involved in case management efforts, alternative dispute resolution activities, and settlements. This year, 45 districts operated mediation and arbitration programs that affected more than 22,000 civil cases.

Since 2008, the total number of trials has risen 1 percent. Civil trials have increased 4 percent during that period, while criminal trials have remained steady. Most of the criminal trials have occurred in cases involving drugs, immigration, and property offenses. Because trials of immigration defendants usually are terminated quickly, growth in these trials has partly been responsible for a drop since 2008 in criminal trials lasting four days or longer. During the past five years, the number of guilty pleas accepted by judges has grown 9 percent (up by 6,270 pleas) as more felony defendants have accepted plea agreements to avoid going to trial.

For data on civil and criminal trials conducted by Article III judges, see the T series of tables. For data on matters handled by magistrate judges, see the M series of tables.

Weighted Filings per Authorized Judgeship

Weighted filings statistics take into account the different amounts of time it takes a judge to resolve various types of civil and criminal actions. The Federal Judiciary has employed techniques for assigning weights to cases since 1946. The average civil case or criminal defendant each receives a weight of approximately 1.0. For more time-consuming cases, higher weights are assessed (e.g., a death-penalty habeas corpus case is assigned a weight of 12.89), while cases demanding relatively little time from district judges receive lower weights (e.g., a defaulted student loan case is assigned a weight of 0.10).

In 2012, weighted filings (i.e., the sum of all weights assigned to civil cases and criminal defendants) per authorized judgeship rose 2 percent to 520 (up by 11 filings). Weighted civil filings per judgeship increased 5 percent to 405. Weighted criminal filings per judgeship dropped 7 percent to 110. Weighted supervised release hearings per judgeship rose 3 percent to 5.

Forty-seven of the 91 districts whose filings receive weights reported gains in total weighted filings (weights are not assigned to civil cases and criminal defendants in the districts of the Virgin Islands, Guam, and Northern Mariana Islands). Twenty-one districts reported 600 or more weighted filings per authorized judgeship. For the district courts, a vacancy of any duration in a district with weighted filings per authorized judgeship in excess of 600 is defined as a judicial emergency.

Weighted civil filings grew in 57 districts and declined in 34 districts. The District of Delaware, the Southern District of West Virginia, the Eastern District of Texas, and the Northern District of Ohio each reported over 100 additional weighted civil filings this year. These districts reported that the growth was related to increased filings of personal injury/product liability cases. Thirty-six districts reported higher criminal weighted filings, 53 districts had decreases, and 2 districts had no change. Fifty-eight district courts reported increases in weighted supervised release hearings, which include probation revocation hearings.

Weighted Filings per Authorized Judgeship, by District

Twelve-Month Period Ending September 30, 2012
Weighted Filings per Authorized Judgeship, by District
Click map for high-resolution download (pdf)

From 2008 to 2012, total weighted civil and criminal filings per authorized judgeship have climbed 10 percent. During that period, civil and criminal unweighted filings per authorized judgeship also increased 10 percent. Over the past five years, overall unweighted civil filings have grown primarily as a result of higher filings of cases related to real property, civil rights, consumer credit, Social Security, labor laws, and intellectual property. The increase in criminal unweighted defendant filings has been fueled by greater numbers of defendants charged with immigration and sex offenses.

For data on weighted filings, unweighted filings, weighted supervised release hearings, and unweighted supervised release hearings per authorized judgeship, see Table X-1A.