The number of new cases filed in federal appellate courts nationwide, excluding the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, decreased by 1.8 percent in 2013, according to new data the judiciary released Tuesday.
Criminal appeals dropped by 13 percent, in large part because appeals involving drugs other than marijuana declined 27 percent. Nonmarijuana appeals jumped by 42 percent in 2012 when prisoners convicted of crack cocaine offenses became eligible to seek sentence reductions under changes to the federal sentencing guidelines, according to the judiciary.
The annual report released by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts tracked cases in federal appellate, trial and bankruptcy courts during the last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, 2013.
The federal appeals courts continued to make progress clearing their dockets last year. The number of pending cases has steadily dropped over the past five years, from 49,885 in 2009 to 41,670 in 2013.
The appellate courts moved faster in 2013. The median time from when parties filed a notice of appeal to when the court issued a final opinion or order was nine months, down from 9.8 months in 2012. The Ninth Circuit continued to take the most time, although it reduced its median time for resolving cases from 15.3 months in 2012 to 13.3 months in 2013.
The Ninth Circuit kept its title as the busiest federal appellate court. Nearly 13,000 new cases were filed in that court last year. The next busiest courts were the Fifth Circuit, with more than 7,000 new cases filed, and the Eleventh Circuit, with more than 6,000 new cases filed last year.
In the D.C. Circuit, the number of new cases went down from 1,193 in 2012 to 1,105 in 2013, but the court ended the fiscal year on Sept. 30 with more cases on its plate, up from 1,315 cases pending to 1,466 cases pending. The court came under scrutiny last year as Congress fought over whether to fill three vacant seats, with opponents arguing the court’s caseload didn’t require more judges.
Senate Democrats pushed through President Obama’s nominees after changing the filibuster rules and they were confirmed in late 2013 and early 2014.
In the Federal Circuit, which is counted separately because it hears cases from across the country, the number of new cases decreased by nine percent last year.
In the federal trial courts, the number of new cases went up by one percent. However, the number of new criminal cases dropped by three percent to 91,266, the lowest number since 2008, according to the judiciary.
New civil cases went up by 2.2 percent, to 284,604. In the Southern District of West Virginia, the number of new cases jumped by 334 percent from 6,443 to 27,991, which the judiciary said was due to multidistrict litigation involving pelvic repair products.
The median time district courts took to resolve civil cases went up from 7.8 months in 2012 to 8.5 months in 2013. Court officials attributed the slowdown to last year’s mandatory congressional budget cuts, known as sequestration, which forced a number of courts to furlough and layoff staff.
In the Eastern District of Arkansas, the median time increased from 45.3 months to 54.1 months, due to multidistrict litigation involving a hormone-replacement drug, Prempro.
Drug cases continued to make up the single largest category of criminal cases, although the number of defendants charged with marijuana-related offenses decreased. Thirty-two percent of all defendants were charged with drug offenses.
Immigration cases made up 26 percent of all new filings in 2013, down five percent from the previous year.
Updated at 2 p.m.