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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. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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