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January 1, 2010

Interesting criminal caseload data in year-end report by the Chief Justice

A true sign of being a law geek is being excited to to spend part of the first morning of the new year checking out the traditional "Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary" from the Chief Justice of the United States. This year's version, which can be accessed here, is impressively minimalist in its prose, but it includes these notable criminal justice caseload statistics:

Criminal case filings (including transfers) rose 8% to 76,655, and the number of defendants climbed 6% to 97,982, surpassing the previous record for the number of defendants, 92,714, set in 2003.  The number of criminal cases reached its highest level since 1932, the year before ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment, which repealed prohibition.  In that year, 92,174 criminal cases were filed.

Increases occurred in cases related to immigration, fraud, marijuana trafficking, and sex offenses. Filings in other offense categories with significant numbers — non-marijuana drugs and firearms-and-explosives — declined.  Immigration filings climbed to record levels, as cases jumped 21% to 25,804, and the number of defendants rose 19% to 26,961.  This growth resulted mostly from filings addressing either improper reentry by aliens or fraud or misuse of a visa or entry permit.  The charge of improper reentry by an alien accounted for 80% of all immigration cases and 77% of all immigration defendants. The vast majority of immigration cases — 88% — were filed in the five southwestern border districts....

On September 30, 2009, the number of persons under post-conviction supervision was 124,183, an increase of nearly 3% over the total one year earlier. Persons serving terms of supervised release after leaving correctional institutions rose more than 4% this year and accounted for 80% of all persons under supervision.  Cases opened in the pretrial services system, including pretrial diversion cases, grew by nearly 6% to 105,294.

January 1, 2010 at 10:18 AM | Permalink

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Interesting that the CJ chose to report statistics related to illegal drugs in two categories: "marijuana trafficking" and "non-marijuana drugs."

Posted by: dm | Jan 1, 2010 6:28:54 PM

I thought this was a revealing bit from Chief Justice Roberts' report (courtesy of my friend and law school classmate Paul Mirengoff at the Powerline blog):

Among the many excellent qualities of Chief Justice John Roberts is his judiciousness, not a bad quality for any judge to possess. It was on display again in his annual report on the state of the federal judiciary.

According to the Washington Post, every year since 1970, the Chief Justice's annual report has called for bigger salaries for federal judges. In my opinion, it's a more than reasonable recommendation; federal judges are significantly underpaid by the standard of their profession and of their employer.

Obviously, judges can't be paid what partners at major law firms make, even though their work is more important and they are often better lawyers. But they can and should be paid more than junior associates at these firms, government trial lawyers and senior government bureaucrats, and senior law professors.

Unfortunately, they are not. Moreover, their salaries have declined in real terms by 25 percent since 1969. During this period, real compensation for lawyers has risen substantially.

This year, however, Chief Justice Roberts declined to renew what is presently a futile plea for an increase in judge's salaries. He wrote:

"In the past few years, I have adhered to the tradition that Chief Justice Burger initiated and have provided my perspective on the most critical needs of the judiciary. . . This year, however, when the political branches are faced with so many difficult issues, and when so many of our fellow citizens have been touched by hardship, the public might welcome a year-end report limited to what is essential: the courts are operating soundly, and the nation's dedicated federal judges are conscientiously discharging their duties."

As far as I can tell, the state of the economy -- i.e., of "our fellow citizens" -- has not caused many in the private or public sector to shy away from special pleading, including special pleading that lacks justification. We are fortunate to have a Chief Justice who has the decency and good judgment to provide an exception.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 1, 2010 7:41:10 PM

Bill Otis:

Amen.

In Philadelphia, our municipal employee unions have no compunction with bankrupting the very cities they serve.

Posted by: mjs | Jan 2, 2010 11:26:00 AM

"their work is more important and they are often better lawyers"

"the nation's dedicated federal judges are conscientiously discharging their duties"

If the quotes above are in reference to the actions taken by honorable men like Judge Ricardo M. Urbina and his decision in the Blackwater case, Judge Cormac J. Carney's acquittal of William Ruehle and dismissal of the charges against Henry T. Nicholas in the Broadcom case and Judge Clay D. Land's actions in the Mark Shelnutt case, all covered in this blog and all blatant cases of federal prosecutorial misconduct, then IMHO these courageous judges and all of their brethren who are willing to take the same stand against such actions, should be amply rewarded for their efforts.

Sadly however there are also those judges who, for unknown reasons, allow the career building less than honorable federal prosecutors, like those involved in the above referenced cases, who will tell any lie and go to any extreme to gain a conviction, to do their thinking for them. They accept at face value the recommendations of the unscrupulous prosecutor and take the path of least resistance with total disregard to SCOTUS rulings on sentencing procedure, i.e. Booker.
In far too many cases I fear the latter circumstance prevails. If the feds want to "get" you are "got" and even if the prosecutor is "caught in the act" little is done to prevent the same action with the next case. In all three of the referenced cases, while the judges did censure the prosecution's actions, none of the individuals involved were punished in any significant manner. Again IMHO any representative of the criminal justice system who lies, fabricates evidence or solicits false testimony to convict or over convict a citizen should be, at the least, disbarred. Actions of this nature by those that we depend upon to protect our interest by following the rule of law are no less egregious than those of the real criminals that they are supposed to be protecting us from.

Too bad that the honorable (the majority) can't be rewarded and the dishonorable weeded out and prevented from further damaging an already severely damaged criminal justice system. Could it be that the "one size fits all" approach to justice, that is so unjust, could also be detrimental to fairness in compensation for federal judges?

Posted by: HadEnough | Jan 2, 2010 11:49:02 AM

That is a nice gesture, but it is as much an example of the CJ's political shrewdness as his decency. The overall goal is to secure a (much deserved) raise for the judiciary from the political(ly craven, on this issue,) branches. This year, highlighting the issue in the report would not have served that overall goal. The CJ was smart enough to see that. Good. I just wouldn't confuse competency and effectiveness with decency.

To be clear, I'm not saying the CJ is *not* extraordinarily decent, kind, etc. I am just saying that this report is not evidence one way or the other. It is just smart politics.

Posted by: Anon | Jan 2, 2010 8:18:59 PM

Anon --

I don't know the CJ (actually, I know him slightly, but not nearly well enough to count for present purposes), so I can't speak for him or guess about his motives. I know of nothing, however, to support the notion that the report is really a push for higher judicial salaries, just a very shrewd and well disguised one. He personally gave up a huge income to become a DC Circuit judge. There is nothing known to me about him to suggest that he cares about making money, and my strong inclination is to believe he thinks federal judges should be in it as a form of public service, or not at all.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 2, 2010 8:57:12 PM

You can't guess about someone's motives because you don't know them? Since when? You do this all the time on this website.

Posted by: Anon | Jan 3, 2010 10:24:52 PM

CJ, Roberts probably used those categories because they're the ones the judiciary uses in its stats.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Jan 4, 2010 2:39:57 PM

It is interesting that we are seeing a record high number of prosecutions for minor immigration offenses, despite the fact that more undocumented residents of the United States are leaving, rather than entering the U.S., for reasons related to the bad economy, particularly in areas like construction, where immigrant labor is disporportionately concentrated. Apparently, this is due to a policy change in the five border districts where the vast majority of the prosecutions have taken place.

It certainly isn't obvious to me that this is money well spent.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Jan 5, 2010 7:38:47 PM

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