What Are Counted As "Civil Rights" Prosecutions?

TRAC's study also sought information from the Civil Rights Division on what qualifies as a "civil rights" prosecution. Under the Freedom of Information Act, we asked for a description of the criteria used to classify a case as a civil rights prosecution.

We requested that the description include answers to at least the following questions:

We also indicated that we would appreciate receiving any other information on the criteria used which they felt would be helpful.

From their response it appears that they do not have any clear definition of what constitutes a civil rights prosecution.

Rather the Civil Rights Division appears to count any investigation in which they are involved or have some interest even if the resulting charges are for some other crime such as a weapons charge, assault on federal property, or an accessory. [See the March 10, 2005 email from Nelson D. Hermilla] Thus cases were counted as “civil rights” prosecutions by the Civil Rights Division even when lead charges did not involve a civil rights matter or the nature of the offense was not principally civil rights. Neither the federal court's nor the prosecutor's databases counted civil rights cases in that manner.

As a result, the Civil Rights Division "counts" a substantial number of cases as a civil rights prosecutions which were not classified this way by either the U.S. Courts or by the U.S. Department of Justice U.S. Attorney offices. This looser definition used by the Civil Rights Division, however, did not appear to account for the differences in trend.