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Judge V. Stuart Couch
FY 2018 - 2023, Charlotte Immigration Court

Published Oct 19, 2023

Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Judge Couch in October 2010. Judge Couch received a bachelor of arts degree in 1987 from Duke University, a juris doctorate in 1996 from Campbell University, Buies Creek, N.C., and a master of law degree in 2008 from George Washington University Law School. From 2009 to October 2010, he was in private practice in Charlotte, N.C. He served in a succession of assignments for 22 years of active Marine Corps service, including senior appellate judge on the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals in Washington, D.C., from 2006 to 2009. He served as a senior prosecutor, Department of Defense, Office of Military Commissions, Washington, D.C., from 2003 to 2006, military justice officer and chief trial counsel, Camp Lejeune, N.C., from 2001 to 2003, and chief trial counsel, Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C., from 1996 to 1999. He was a legal officer and KC-130 pilot, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252, Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, from 1989 to 1993. From 1999 to 2000, Judge Couch was in private practice in New Bern, N.C. From 2000 to 2001, he served as an assistant district attorney, Beaufort, N.C. Judge Couch is a member of the North Carolina State Bar.

Deciding Asylum Cases

Detailed data on decisions by Judge Couch were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Couch decided 449 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted asylum for 24, granted 1 other types of relief, and denied relief to 424. Converted to percentage terms, Couch denied 94.4 percent and granted 5.5 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).

Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Couch's denial rate each fiscal year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)

Figure 1: Percent of Asylum Matters Denied

Nationwide Comparisons

Compared to Judge Couch's denial rate of 94.4 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Charlotte Immigration Court where Judge Couch decided these cases denied asylum 88.7 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

Judge Couch's asylum grant and denial rates are compared with other judges serving on the same court in this table. Note that when an Immigration Judge serves on more than one court during the same period, separate Immigration Judge reports are created for any Court in which the judge rendered at least 100 asylum decisions.

Figure 2: Comparing Denial Rates (percents)

Why Do Denial Rates Vary Among Judges?

Although denial rates are shaped by each Judge's judicial philosophy, denial rates are also shaped by other factors, such as the types of cases on the Judge's docket, the detained status of immigrant respondents, current immigration policies, and other factors beyond an individual Judge's control. For example, TRAC has previously found that legal representation and the nationality of the asylum seeker are just two factors that appear to impact asylum decision outcomes.

The composition of cases may differ significantly between Immigration Courts in the country. Within a single Court when cases are randomly assigned to judges sitting on that Court, each Judge should have roughly a similar composition of cases given a sufficient number of asylum cases. Then variations in asylum decisions among Judges on the same Immigration Court would appear to reflect, at least in part, the judicial philosophy that the Judge brings to the bench. However, if judges within a Court are assigned to specialized dockets or hearing locations, then case compositions are likely to continue to differ and can contribute to differences in asylum denial rates.


When asylum seekers are not represented by an attorney, almost all of them (80%) are denied asylum. In contrast, a significantly higher proportion of represented asylum seekers are successful. In the case of Judge Couch, 22.7% were not represented by an attorney. See Figure 3. For the nation as a whole, about 15.7% of asylum seekers are not represented.

Figure 3: Asylum Seeker Had Representation


Asylum seekers are a diverse group. Over one hundred different nationalities had at least one hundred individuals claiming asylum decided during this period. As might be expected, immigration courts located in different parts of the country tend to have proportionately larger shares from some countries than from others. And, given the required legal grounds for a successful asylum claim, asylum seekers from some nations tend to be more successful than others.

The largest group of asylum seekers appearing before Judge Couch came from Honduras. Individuals from this country made up 28.3% of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Couch were: El Salvador (25.8%), Guatemala (21.4%), Mexico (15.8%), Romania (1.6%). See Figure 4.

In the nation as a whole during this same period, major nationalities of asylum seekers, in descending order of frequency, were El Salvador (16.6%), Guatemala (15.1%), Honduras (13.8%), Mexico (9.2%), China (6.8%), India (5.1%), Venezuela (3.2%), Ecuador (3.1%), Cuba (2.4%), Nicaragua (2.3%), Brazil (2.0%), Colombia (1.4%), Cameroon (1.4%).

Figure 4: Asylum Decisions by Nationality
TRAC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit data research center affiliated with the Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Whitman School of Management, both at Syracuse University. For more information, to subscribe, or to donate, contact trac@syr.edu or call 315-443-3563.