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March 16, 2011

More prosecutions but fewer criminal appeals in federal courts in FY 2010

Thanks to How Appealing, I now see that the Administrative Office of the US Courts has published this news release, headlined "Filings in the Federal Judiciary Continued to Grow in Fiscal Year 2010," which documents the latest case statistics concerning criminal cases in the federal court system. Here are the interesting specifics:

Filings in the regional courts of appeals dropped 3 percent to 55,992 in FY 2010, due to a 7 percent drop in criminal appeals to 12,797 and a 9 percent drop in administrative agency appeals to 7,813.... Prisoner petitions fell 3 percent to 15,789. Appeals involving pro se litigants declined 2 percent to 27,209....

Filings of criminal cases (including transfers) increased 2 percent to 78,428. The number of criminal defendants (including transfers) also rose 2 percent to 100,366, surpassing the previous record of 97,982 set in 2009. Proceedings were concluded against 98,311 defendants, 91 percent of whom were convicted, with 89 percent pleading guilty.

Immigration cases, which climbed 9 percent to 28,046, constituted 36 percent of all criminal cases filed, compared to 34 percent in 2009. The majority of immigration filings involved improper reentry of aliens, and 73 percent of all immigration cases were filed in the District of Arizona, the Southern District of California, the District of New Mexico, and the Southern and Western Districts of Texas.

Filings addressing fraud grew 12 percent to 9,371 for cases, and rose 13 percent to 12,639 for defendants in these cases.

Twenty percent of all criminal cases were drug offenses, compared to 22 percent in 2009. Cases involving drug offenses decreased 5 percent to 15,785, and defendants in those cases declined 2 percent to 29,410. Marijuana cases dropped 10 percent overall, but filings related to possession of marijuana increased, with cases climbing 26 percent to 1,248 and defendants rising 28 percent to 1,305. Drug cases involving non-marijuana offenses declined 3 percent to 10,817, and defendants in those cases fell 2 percent to 21,918.

Firearms and explosives cases, which account for 9 percent of total criminal case filings, declined 7 percent to 7,248. Defendants in those cases dropped 6 percent to 8,376.

This data could (and should?) be spun a number of different ways.  First, we continue to see how immigration offenses drive and shape the overall story reporting on the cumulative data: a relative large increase in immigration prosecutions in FY 2010 offset relatively smaller decreases in prosecutions of drug and firearm offenses.  Relatedly, the decrease in criminal appeals is itself likely related to the increase in immigration prosecutions in which, thanks to fast-track plea policies, many defendants waive their appeal rights in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Second, there are lots of interesting non-immigration stories lurking in this data.  For example, during these economic hard times, we are seeing a (justified?) spike in federal fraud prosecutions.  And, following years of many states liberalizing their marijuana prohibitions and Supreme Court cases emphasizing gun rights, we are seeing a (justified?) decline in federal marijuana and firearm prosecutions.  Very interesting data.

The news release from the Administrative Office of the US Courts also reports these notable data concerning pretrial services and post-conviction supervision:

The number of cases opened in the pretrial services system, including pretrial diversion cases, grew nearly 6 percent to 111,507 cases from 105,294 cases in 2009. Forty percent of the cases opened involved immigration as a major offense.  Cases involving property offenses represented 14 percent of the cases opened, up from 13 percent in 2009.  There was a two percent drop in cases involving firearms offenses and in cases in which the major offense charged involved drugs.

In 2010, Pretrial Services Officers prepared 107,256 pretrial services reports, an increase of more than 6 percent over 2009.  A total of 32,500 defendants were released with specified conditions such as pretrial services supervision or location monitoring.  Pretrial supervision was imposed on 89 percent of the defendants released.  Substance abuse treatment and testing were ordered for 50 percent of the defendants.

The number of persons under post-conviction supervision on September 30, 2010, was 127,324, an increase of 2.5 percent over the 124,183 persons under supervision one year earlier.  The 102,521 persons released from correctional institutions who were serving terms of supervised release on September 30, 2010, accounted for 81 percent of all persons under supervision.  Cases involving probation imposed by district and magistrate judges fell less than 1 percent to 22,619 cases, accounting for 18 percent of all persons under post-conviction supervision.  Parole cases dropped more than 5 percent to 2,058 cases.

Of the persons under post-conviction supervision at the end of the fiscal year, more than 47 percent had been convicted of drug offenses, 22 percent of property offenses, and nearly 12 percent of firearms offenses.

March 16, 2011 at 09:01 AM | Permalink


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"91 percent of whom were convicted, with 89 percent pleading guilty."

Does that mean out of the 11% that didn't plead out, only 3% were convicted?

Posted by: NickS | Mar 16, 2011 9:44:24 AM

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