« What might 2009 have in store for . . . executive clemency? | Main | What might 2009 have in store for . . . the death penalty in the US? »

January 1, 2009

What might 2009 have in store for . . . the federal judiciary and its criminal caseload?

Continuing the 2009 "what's in store" series, let's turn to the federal judiciary and its criminal docket.  This topic jumps to mind because the Chief Justice of the United States late yesterday released his "2008 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary," which can be accessed at this link.  The report details declines in some caseloads (and stresses a decline in judges' real wages), but it also documents increases in nearly every federal criminal justice statistic.  Here are some particulars:

Criminal appeals rose by 4% to 13,667 filings.  That increase stems from sentencing appeals in non-marijuana drug cases.  On November 1, 2007, the United States Sentencing Commission issued an amendment to its sentencing guidelines that reduced the penalties for most crack cocaine offenses and prompted numerous appeals.... Prisoner petitions rose by 9% to 16,853 filings....

The number of criminal cases filed in 2008 rose by 4% to 70,896 cases, and the number of defendants in those cases increased by 3% to 92,355 defendants.... Sex offense case filings grew by 9% to 2,674 cases, and the number of defendants in those cases climbed by 7% to 2,760 defendants.  The increase in sex offense filings stemmed from cases involving sexually explicit material and sex offender registration.  The number of drug cases dropped by 7% to 15,784 cases, and the number of defendants charged with drug crimes fell by 3% to 28,932 cases. Those reductions occurred when investigative agencies shifted their focus from drugs to terrorism and sex offenses....

In 2008, the number of persons under post-conviction supervision continued to increase, this year by 4% to 120,676 individuals.

As this terrific new US Sentencing Commission report documents, these numbers are stunning when considered from a historical perspective.  As recently as 1995, less than 40,000 defendants were sentenced in the federal system; the size of the federal criminal justice system has nearly doubled in just over a decade.  And yet, disappointingly, we almost never here prominent politicians or glib pundits who lament "too much government" complain about the massive modern growth of the federal criminal caseload.

Sadly, I do not expect a new Presidential administration in 2009 to reduce dramatically the criminal justice "footprint" of the federal government.  I do expect, however, to see some changes in the types of persons joining the federal judiciary and in the types of cases that become top priorities for federal prosecutors.  But the nature and impact of such changes will be slow, often subtle, and won't likely be very tangible until well after 2009. 

Some recent related posts:

January 1, 2009 at 12:34 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference What might 2009 have in store for . . . the federal judiciary and its criminal caseload?:


i was wondering if anyone may be able to give me any information on a proposed law that may reduce the current sentence of a federal prison inmate?

Posted by: nicole gonzalez | Jan 5, 2009 12:30:49 PM

my husband was recently sentenced 4 years federal prison, and i have heard that his time may get reduced, pending a new bill concerning federal sentencing.

Posted by: nicole gonzalez | Jan 5, 2009 12:34:23 PM

did u hear any information on this because I am trying to find out the same thing

Posted by: shelena | Mar 31, 2009 11:27:57 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB