Civil Rights Prosecutions Up Sharply in December 2011

Number Latest Month 39
Percent Change from previous month 178.6
Percent Change from 1 year ago 16.7
Percent Change from 5 years ago (Including Magistrate Court) 4.3
Percent Change from 5 years ago (Excluding Magistrate Court) 8.0
Table 1: Criminal Civil Rights Prosecutions
The latest available data from the Justice Department show that during December 2011 the government reported 39 new civil rights prosecutions. The largest number were filed in the Northern District of Ohio (Cleveland) and concerned religiously-motivated assaults on practitioners of the Amish religion. Another large case was filed in the Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta) and involved sex trafficking of children by force, fraud or coercion, which may be evidence of this district's strategy to identify and prosecute such cases.

According to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), this number is up 178.6% over the previous month. The comparisons of the number of defendants charged with civil rights-related 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. (See Table 1)

When monthly 2011 prosecutions of this type are compared with those of the same period in the previous year, the number of filings was up (16.7 percent). Prosecutions over the past year are still much higher than they were five years ago. Overall, the data show that prosecutions of this type are up 4.3 percent from levels reported in 2006.

The largest number of prosecutions of these matters in December 2011 was for "Civil Rights-Slavery/Invol. Servitude", accounting for 66.7 percent of prosecutions. Prosecutions were also filed for "Civil Rights-Other" (28.2%), "Civil Rights-Law Enforcement" (5.1%). See Figure 1.

The leading investigative agency for civil rights prosecutions in December 2011 was FBI, accounting for 79 percent of prosecutions referred. The only other agency with substantial numbers of civil rights referrals was DHS, with 18 percent. See Figure 2.

Pie chart of progcatlabel
Figure 1: Specific types of prosecutions
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Figure 2: Prosecutions by investigative agency

Civil Rights Prosecutions in U.S. Magistrate Courts

Top Ranked Lead Charges

In December 2011, 3 defendants in civil rights cases for these matters were filed in U.S. Magistrate Courts. These courts handle less serious misdemeanor cases, including what are called "petty offenses." In addition, complaints are sometimes filed in the magistrate courts before an indictment or information is entered. In these cases, the matter starts in the magistrate courts and later moves to the district court where subsequent proceedings take place.

In the magistrate courts in December the most frequently cited lead charge was Title 18 U.S.C Section 115 involving the "Influencing, impeding, or retaliating against a Federal official". This was the lead charge for 33.3 percent of all magistrate filings in December.

Civil Rights Prosecutions in U.S. District Courts

In December 2011, 36 defendants in new cases for these matters were charged in the U.S. District Courts. In addition during December there were an additional 8 defendants whose cases moved from the magistrate courts to the U.S. district courts after an indictment or information was filed. The sections which follow cover both sets of cases and therefore cover all matters filed in district court during December.

Top Ranked Lead Charges

Table 2 shows the top lead charges recorded in the prosecutions of civil rights matters filed in U.S. District Court during December 2011.

Lead Charge Count Rank  
18 USC 1591 - Sex trafficking of children by force, fraud or coercion 14 1 More
18 USC 241 - Conspiracy against rights 12 2 More
18 USC 1583 - Enticement into slavery 10 3 More
18 USC 242 - Deprivation of rights under color of law 3 4 More
08 USC 1324 - Bringing in and harboring certain aliens 2 5 More
08 USC 1328 - Importation of alien for immoral purpose 1 6 More
18 USC 1951 - Hobbs Act 1 6 More
18 USC 2421 - Transportation for illegal sexual activity and related crimes 1 6 More
Table 2: Top charges filed

  • "Sex trafficking of children by force, fraud or coercion" (Title 18 U.S.C Section 1591) was the most frequent recorded lead charge.

  • Ranked 2nd in frequency was the lead charge "Conspiracy against rights" under Title 18 U.S.C Section 241.

  • Ranked 3rd was "Enticement into slavery" under Title 18 U.S.C Section 1583.

Top Ranked Judicial Districts

Judicial District Count Rank  
Ohio, N 12 1 More
Texas, S 10 2 More
Ga, N 8 3 More
Cal, N 2 4 More
Iowa, S 2 4 More
Texas, W 2 4 More
Wash, W 2 4 More
Cal, S 1 8 More
Ga, M 1 8 More
Kansas 1 8 More
Maryland 1 8 More
N. Y., W 1 8 More
Tenn, W 1 8 More
Table 3: Top 10 districts

In December 2011 the Justice Department said the government brought 17.2 civil rights prosecutions for every ten million people in the United States.

Understandably, there is great variation in the number of civil rights prosecutions that are filed in each of the nation's ninety-four federal judicial districts.

The districts registering the largest number of prosecutions of this type last month are shown in Table 3.

  • The Northern District of Ohio (Cleveland)—with 12 prosecutions—was the most active during December 2011.

  • The Southern District of Texas (Houston) ranked 2nd.

  • Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta) is now ranking 3rd.