Prisoner Petitions to Vacate Sentences Return to Normal Levels After June 2016 Spike
The latest available data from the federal district courts show that during December 2016 the number of new civil actions filed to vacate federal sentences appear to have fallen back to more typical levels since these actions spiked in June 2016. See Table 1.
This surge in these prisoner petitions occurred following the U.S. Supreme Court's April 2016 decision that provided a new basis for challenging sentences of some individuals who had been convicted under the Armed Career Criminal Act [Welch v. United States, No. 15-6418].
Federal court records compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University show that during June 2016, filings of motions to vacate sentence peaked at 13,254.
The latest available data compiled by TRAC covering December 2016 indicate that the government recorded only 541 new motions to vacate sentence civil filings last month. This is now below levels of a year ago when in December 2015 there were 587 such filings. A month- by-month time line of these actions is shown below in Figure1.
Top Ranked Judicial Districts
Relative to population, the volume of civil matters of this type filed in federal district courts during December 2016 was 1.7 per every million persons in the United States. One year ago the relative number of filings was 1.8. Understandably, there is great variation in the per capita number of motions to vacate sentence civil filings in each of the nation's ninety-four federal judicial districts. See Table 2
The federal judicial district which showed the greatest growth in the rate of motions to vacate sentence civil filings compared to one year ago - 400 percent - was South Dakota. In the last year, the judicial District Court recording the largest drop in the rate of motions to vacate sentence civil filings - 35 percent - was Western District of Missouri.
 See TRAC's August 16, 2016 report, "Federal Prisoner Petitions to Vacate Sentences Soar in 2016."
Each month, TRAC offers a free report focused on one area of civil litigation in the U.S. district courts. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports by district, office, nature of suit or federal jurisdiction via the TRAC Data Interpreter.