Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Federal Court Caseload Stats

The Administrative Office of the United States Courts released statistics for the last fiscal year (the year ending Sept. 30, 2007) yesterday. The press release is here; it links to dozens of statistical tables here or (if you can handle a huge download) a 416-page PDF: James C. Duff, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, Judicial Business of the United States Courts 2007 Annual Report of the Director.

A few highlights:

  • Appeals are down 12%.

  • The decline in appeals is because of a big drop (21%) in appeals from the Board of Immigration Appeals.

  • District court filings held about steady -- with a slight decrease (less than 1%) in civil filings and an increase (2%) in criminal filings.

  • "Sex offense filings jumped 31 percent to 2,460 cases, and defendants in such cases climbed 30 percent to 2,572. The surge in filing was primarily due to filings related to sexually explicit materials."

  • "Overall drug cases dropped 2 percent to 17,046 and defendants charged with drug crimes fell 2 percent to 29,885. The decline came as filings associated with non-marijuana drugs fell 5 percent. Marijuana cases increased 5 percent to 5,040."

  • Bankruptcy filings were at their lowest since 1990, due to the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA). But there might be growth -- each quarter of the fiscal year saw more filings than the one before. Since BAPCPA, the percentage of filings that under Chapter 7 has declined and the percentage under Chapter 13 has gone up.

  • Some district courts get a lot more business than others -- even weighted by the number of judges. (See map below.)
Numbers people are sometimes disparaged as mere "bean counters" -- but statistics can reveal a lot about real live people, the administration of justice, and society. I get overwhelmed when I think about, say, the human stories behind thousands of bankrupcty filings or thousands of marijuana prosecutions, but it's a good exercise to try.

Sources for graphics: Civil Cases Filed, by Type of Case" (top) -- Judicial Business of the United States Courts 2007 Annual Report of the Director, at 21; 2007 Weighted Filings by Authorized Judgeship, by District" -- id. at 29.

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