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Criminal Justice Act — Judicial Business 2020

The Criminal Justice Act (CJA) provides funding for the representation of individuals with limited financial resources in federal criminal proceedings. In each district, a plan exists for providing representation through private panel attorneys and, where established, federal public or community defender organizations. This year, 81 federal defender organizations (64 federal public defender organizations and 17 community defender organizations) served 91 of the 94 federal judicial districts.

A total of 190,225 representations by counsel under the CJA were opened, a decrease of 25 percent from 2019. The reduction in representations has been attributed mainly to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sixty-nine percent of all federal judicial districts had lower caseloads. The largest percentage declines occurred in the Western District of Texas (down 51 percent), the Southern District of Texas (down 45 percent), the District of South Carolina (down 40 percent), the District of Arizona (down 35 percent), and the District of Guam (down 35 percent). The largest percentage increase was in the District of Hawaii (up 35 percent), where the federal public defender had a 583 percent increase in court-directed representations by counsel due to pursuing temporary compassionate release for prisoners upon the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Representations closed by the 81 federal public and community defender organizations (including representations in criminal matters, appeals, and habeas corpus proceedings) dropped 29 percent from the previous year to 108,921. Representations closed by appointed panel attorneys fell 16 percent to 76,539. More than 61 percent of the reduction resulted from a decline in illegal entry immigration cases, most of which involve misdemeanors and require relatively limited resources to adjudicate. As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic caused more representations to be opened than closed, the backlog of representations increased.

The number of private attorneys paid through the CJA panel attorney payment system was 7,931.

For a summary of federal defender appointments under the CJA for the past five years, see Table S-21. For information on representations for each federal public and community defender organization, see Table K-1.