TRAC's new interactive judge tool is based on hundreds of thousands of records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as a result of a series of lawsuits against the Justice Department. This has been combined with information obtained directly from the federal courts.
TRAC's research project to develop the data and the interactive tool has extended over more than fifteen years. As part of this work, four lawsuits were also needed. The first was a FOIA lawsuit filed in 1998. A second suit, also filed in 1998, sought judicial review of agency actions in the destruction of records classified for permanent retention. The last two were FOIA suits filed in 2000 and 2002. Some issues in these latter two suits remain unresolved and are still pending before the federal Court of Appeals. A large proportion of the data was obtained by TRAC through a generous and persistent pro bono legal effort by Public Citizen and the Public Citizen Litigation Group.
Name of Judge. This is the name of the federal district court judge who sentenced the defendant.
Average and Median Sentences. The average sentence is calculated by adding up the sentences for each defendant, and dividing by the number of defendants. The median sentence is calculated by ordering sentences from lowest to highest, and selecting the middle sentence from this ordered list. When there is an even number of defendants and thus no single case is in the middle, the middle two sentences are averaged for the median. Sentences with no prison time are included as "0" months in these calculations. Sentences of less than a month are converted into decimal portions of a month. For purposes of computing these statistics, prison terms are capped at 100 years (1200 months). This was done to avoid the undue influence of an extreme sentence, such as one for hundreds of years, on the value calculated for the average. A sentence of "life" was incorporated in the calculations as equivalent to 100 years.
Type of Case. The type of case is based upon the classification made by the federal prosecutor who handled the case. These characterize the type of offense: civil rights, environment, government regulation, immigration, internal security/terrorism, narcotics/drugs, official corruption, organized crime, weapons, white collar crime, and other.
Lead Charge. This is the statutory lead charge, such as "18 USC 371 — conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud US", "18 USC 2252 — material involving sexual exploitation of minors", or "21 USC 952 — importation of controlled substances". The lead charge was selected as the most important charge according to the judgment of the federal prosecutor handling the case.
Lead Investigative Agency. This is the lead government agency in the investigation that lead to the prosecution. This is usually a federal agency or department such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Defense Department. Referrals from nonfederal agencies are grouped together under the category "State/Local Authorities".
TRAC has compiled a much larger body of case-by-case sentencing records beyond those used in the interactive judge tool. These records cover all federal magistrate and district court sentencing back through FY 1992. New sentencing records are added on both district court and magistrate court cases on a monthly update cycle.