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Fewer filings, newer trends

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The number of cases filed in the state courts dropped slightly in 2009 from the previous year, but the nearly two million filings still amounted to the second-highest number ever for Indiana.

Some interesting trends can also be found in the 1,734-page Judicial Service Report released by the Division of State Court Administration in mid-November, such as the upward trend in prosecutions that some describe as being a symptom of “offense inflation.”

baker-john-g-mug Baker

But overall, the annual report shows that Indiana remains on pace with what it’s seen in past years, and the trends and numbers are likely to bear even more interest in the coming months as state lawmakers scrutinize how to cut costs and craft a two-year budget.

With an overall 16.5 percent increase in criminal and civil cases filed between 2000 and 2009, the specific number of cases was 1.95 million in 2009 – dropping from the record-breaking amount of more than 2 million a year earlier. The figure for 2009 includes 369 civil jury trials and 225 murder trials, as well as more than 385,000 pro se litigants in both civil and criminal courts. The mortgage foreclosure filings increased about 20 percent during the 10-year report period, though they dipped lower last year than the year before by almost 9 percent.

On the criminal side, the report shows that during the past decade the number of criminal cases has gone up more than 17 percent while the state’s population has increased less than 6 percent. Some counties saw more dramatic criminal case hikes, such as southern Indiana counties doubling during that time period. While the prison population nationally last year dropped 0.4 percent, it rose 5.3 percent in Indiana – the largest percentage increase in any state in the country.

That is also likely why the Indiana General Assembly is now studying the issue of sentencing.

Indiana Court of Appeals Chief Judge John Baker said the numbers of criminal cases and subsequent incarcerations reflect a more aggressive use of the courts. More bad behavior has become criminalized and punishments have escalated, with the number of criminal penal code statutes going up from about 200 in 1977 to nearly 2,000 today.

Reflecting the phenomenon of “offense inflation,” or when violations have escalated from infraction to misdemeanor and misdemeanor to felony, one of the biggest increases came with Class D felonies – rising by 32 percent from 39,114 in 1977 to 51,524 in 2009.

What does that mean for the courts? Overcrowded dockets, an increase in the jail and prison populations, and more work for the already-pressured prosecutors and public defenders as well as for private criminal defense attorneys. Weighted caseloads used to measure need for new judicial officers have risen, but the budgeted money available for those new resources has shrunk incredibly and left many counties struggling.

Last year, Indiana paid nearly $400 million to operate the courts, and that could be a significant topic in the next legislative session as lawmakers look to cut costs and craft a budget which might include court reform ideas being pushed by the Hoosier judiciary. Chief Judge Baker and others at the appellate level have told lawmakers that the overall court costs could be reduced by streamlining the judiciary at the local level.

The interim Commission on Courts recommended some potential court reform legislation for consideration during the 2011 session, but whether that goes anywhere has yet to be determined.•
 

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  1. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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