Arizona Federal Prosecutions Driven to Record Highs

Fiscal Year All 12
First 8
Months Only
How FY 2010
2005 7,905 5,355 +289%
2006 12,470 9,420 +121%
2007 12,847 9,436 +121%
2008 17,759 10,679 +95%
2009 26,237 16,531 +26%
2010 20,818
Table 1. All Arizona Federal Prosecutions.

Federal prosecutions in Arizona reached an all-time high during the first eight months of fiscal year 2010, according to the latest available data from the Justice Department.

The 20,818 prosecutions filed in the state through May were up by 26 percent over the same period last year and were nearly double (up 95%) over FY 2008, the last year of the Bush administration. Indeed, the volume of filings in Arizona was nearly four times the level for the same period just five years ago, in 2005 (see Table 1).

The dramatic climb in Arizona prosecutions is shown in Figure 1. This time series plot displays Arizona prosecution trends over the past two decades covering the Bush (I), Clinton, Bush (II) and Obama administrations. 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

Figure 1. Arizona Federal Prosecutions Over Time.

Concentrated Federal Enforcement Efforts Focus on Arizona

Fiscal Year Arizona US Percent
2005 7,905 118,342 7%
2006 12,470 116,739 11%
2007 12,847 117,651 11%
2008 17,759 155,694 11%
2009 26,237 169,612 15%
first 8 months
20,818 109,532 19%
(Census estimate in 1000s)
2009 6,596 307,007 2%
Table 2. Arizona Versus United States Federal Prosecutions.

For the first time, Arizona now leads the nation in terms of having more federal prosecutions than any other federal district in the country. So far this year nearly one out of every five (19%) of all prosecutions filed anywhere in the nation were brought in Arizona, up from 15 percent during the first year of the Obama administration. In contrast, the state accounts for just 2 percent of the nation's population (see Table 2).

The increased concentration of federal enforcement in Arizona during the last two years contrasts with the effort during the Bush Administration. Five years ago, for example, only 7 percent of all FY 2005 federal prosecutions were filed in Arizona. In the last years of the Bush Administration (FYs 2006-2008) this rose to 11 percent of the national total, still well below current levels.

One explanation for the growth in prosecutions in Arizona is the increased number of assistant U.S. attorneys in the state. According to TRAC's analysis of data from the Office of Personnel Management, full-time federal prosecutors in Arizona jumped by 36% from the end of September in 2005 to the end of March in 2010 (111 to 151). By comparison, for the nation as a whole, the increase was only 9% (5,200 to 5,657).

Composition of Arizona Federal Prosecutions

Figure 2. Composition of
Arizona Prosecutions.

Not surprisingly, immigration cases accounted for more than four out of five (84.5%) of all federal prosecutions in Arizona during FY 2010 (see Figure 2). The next largest specific group of cases were those involving drugs and narcotics (6.8%). The "Other" category in Figure 2 is comprised of a diverse group of programs. The largest specific program within the "Other" category was categorized by the Justice Department as involving white-collar crimes (4.1%).

[The Department of Justice is withholding the program area for 1.6% 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.]

The lead investigative agency for most prosecutions was Customs and Border Protection in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which contains the Border Patrol. This agency referred 84.2 percent of prosecutions filed this year. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) also in DHS was the lead investigative agency on 7.6 percent of Arizona federal prosecutions. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was the third most active lead investigative agency, accounting for 4.1% of federal prosecutions in the state.

Arizona Enforcement Trends for Immigration and Drugs

While both immigration and drug prosecutions in Arizona have risen during the Obama administration, over the longer term their trends present quite different pictures. As shown in Figure 3 immigration trends over the past 20 years parallel those seen earlier in Figure 1 where all Arizona prosecutions were displayed.

Figure 3. Arizona Immigration Prosecutions Over Time.
Fiscal Year All 12
First 8
Months Only
How FY 2010
2005 4,824 3,189 +452%
2006 9,897 7,453 +136%
2007 10,554 7,795 +126%
2008 15,730 9,260 +90%
2009 22,416 14,222 +24%
2010 17,591
Table 3. Arizona Federal
Immigration Prosecutions.

Table 3 provides the corresponding numbers since 2005. During the first 8 months of this year, immigration prosecutions were up 24 percent over the same period in 2010 and up 90 percent over 2008, the last year of the Bush administration, roughly similar to the overall trends in Arizona.

In contrast to immigration, as shown in Figure 4 drug prosecutions initially rose, reaching a high point in FY 2004, and then dropped off sharply during the second four-year term of the Bush administration. Once Obama assumed office, greater emphasis was again put on federal drug enforcement and levels sharply rose. During the first 8 months of FY 2010, drug prosecutions reached an all-time high in Arizona.

Figure 4. Arizona Drug Prosecutions Over Time.
Fiscal Year All 12
First 8
Months Only
How FY 2010
2005 1,713 1,145 +24%
2006 1,327 1,041 +37%
2007 1,023 709 +101%
2008 753 493 +189%
2009 1,669 896 +59%
2010 1,424
Table 4. Arizona Federal
Drug Prosecutions.

Table 4 provides the corresponding numbers since 2005. In the first year of the Obama administration prosecutions nearly doubled over levels at the end of the Bush administration, and the pace of federal drug prosecutions is almost three times that of FY 2008.