Federal Criminal Prosecutions Down Sharply in July 2016
The latest available data from the Justice Department show that during July 2016 the government reported 9,118 new prosecutions, down 15.5 percent from June. According to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), this number for July is the lowest on record since July of 2007.
Table 1. Criminal Prosecutions
During the first ten months of FY 2016 the government reported 112,942 new prosecutions. If this activity continues at the same pace, the annual total of prosecutions will be 135,530 for this fiscal year. According to TRAC's detailed analysis, this estimate is down 4.0 percent over the past fiscal year when the number of prosecutions totaled 141,220. See Table 1.
While the overall prosecution filings were down 15.5 percent in July and by 4 percent so far this fiscal year, there was considerable variation by type of crime. Among the major crime categories white collar crime prosecutions dropped by 11.0 percent as compared with the pace of filings during FY 2015. Immigration prosecutions dropped by 4.1 percent from last year, while drug prosecutions rose slightly (up 0.8 percent) and weapon prosecutions jumped by 8.7 percent.
The comparisons of the number of defendants charged with offenses are based on case-by-case information obtained by TRAC under the Freedom of Information Act from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys.
Compared to five years ago when there were 162,997, the estimate of FY 2016 prosecutions of this type is down 16.9 percent. Prosecutions over the past year are still higher than they were ten years ago. Overall, the data show that prosecutions of this type are up 16.1 percent from the level of 116,739 reported in 2006 and up 92 percent from the level of 70,587 reported in 1996.
The long term trend in prosecutions for these matters going back to FY 1996 is shown more clearly in Figure 1. The vertical bars in Figure 1 represent the number of prosecutions of this type recorded each fiscal year. Projected figures for the current fiscal year are shown. Each presidential administration is distinguished by the color of the bars.
Leading Program Areas
Cases were classified by prosecutors into more specific types. The single largest number of prosecutions of these matters through July 2016 was for "Immigration", accounting for 52.9 percent of prosecutions.
The second largest number of matters were Prosecutions filed under the program area of "Narcotics/Drugs " (16.4%). The "Other" category in Figure 2 is comprised of a diverse group of programs. The largest specific programs within the "Other" category were: Weapons" (5.5%), "White Collar Crime" (4.6%).
[The Department of Justice is withholding the program area for 6.4% of the cases. These matters are also included in the "Other" category. TRAC, in ongoing litigation, has challenged the government's withholding of program category information, winning a substantial victory in September 2006 decision. The government, however, has filed a notice of appeal which has stayed the order requiring it to release program information.]
Leading Investigative Agencies
The lead investigative agency for prosecutions through July 2016 was "Homeland Security - Customs and Border Protection" accounting for 47.9 percent of prosecutions referred.
As shown in Figure 3, additional agencies with substantial numbers of referrals were: Homeland Security - Immigration and Customs Enforcement (9.5%), "Justice - Federal Bureau of Investigation" (9.5%), "Justice - Drug Enforcement Administration" (8.5%), "Justice - Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives" (5.5%). The "Other" category in Figure 3 is comprised of a diverse group of agencies. The agencies with substantial numbers of within the "Other" category were: Defense" (2.6%), "Interior" (2.5%).
Top Ranked Lead Charges
Table 2 shows the top lead charges recorded in the prosecutions of matters filed in U.S. District Court during the first ten months of FY 2016.
Note: There were an additional 493 other lead charges which were not individually ranked. See latest monthly report if you want all lead charges included in rankings for the latest month, or use TRACFED criminal analyzer tool for complete listing for any year.
Table 2. Top Charges Files
Top Ranked Judicial Districts
During FY 2015 the Justice Department said the government obtained 439.4 prosecutions for every one million people in the United States. If pace during the first ten months of FY 2016 continues at the same rate, prosecutions for one million people in the United States this year will be 421.7. Understandably, there is great variation in the per capita number of prosecutions in each of the nation's ninety-four federal judicial districts
Table 3. Top Charges Files
Compared to 10 years ago, North Dakota now ranked in the top 10 did not appear in the top ten.
And compared to 20 years ago, Wyoming, Southern District of Texas (Houston), North Dakota and Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria) were not sufficiently active to then make the top 10.
The federal judicial district which showed the greatest projected growth in the rate of prosecutions compared to one year ago—18.9 percent—was New Mexico. Compared to five years ago, the district with the largest projected growth—10.2 percent—was Western District of Texas (San Antonio).
TRAC offers free monthly reports on program categories such as white collar crime, immigration, drugs, weapons and terrorism and on selected government agencies such as the IRS, FBI, ATF and DHS. For the latest information on prosecutions and convictions, go to http://trac.syr.edu/tracreports/bulletins/. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports for a specific agency, judicial district, program category, lead charge or judge via the TRAC Data Interpreter.