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How Are the Annual Counts Determined?

The records cited in this report documenting the decline in the prosecution and conviction of corporations for a decade or more were drawn from two large data systems — one maintained by the Department of Justice and the second by a unit of the federal courts, the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

In the Justice Department system, U.S attorneys around the country are required to submit very detailed information about virtually every matter referred to them from the moment that an agency like the FBI forwards its investigative results on an individual or organization to the U.S. Attorney's office to its ultimate disposition. (A disposition may occur when a prosecutor decides to close the case and not proceed with a prosecution, or after a prosecution has been filed and court proceedings are completed.)

One of the many factual matters that the prosecutors must provide about each case that was central to TRAC's report is whether it concerned an individual or a business.

Under the court's system, the chief judge of each district is required by statute to ensure that within 30 days of entry of a sentence in a criminal case a report is submitted on the sentence to the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC). The report should contain (1) the judgment and commitment order; (2) the written statement of reasons; (3) any plea agreement; (4) the indictment or other charging document; (5) the presentence report; and (6) any other information the Commission requests. Under the law, defendants may include corporations, partnerships, associations, joint-stock companies, unions, trusts, pension funds, government groups, and nonprofit organizations. The U.S. Sentencing Commission extracts the details on each defendant organization sentenced and, after removing identifying details, makes this case-by-case data publicly available.

The vast range of detailed questions answered within these two systems can be surprising. For a corporation, what was the primary industry in which it conducts business, how many employees does it have? How was the business organized and was it closely held? Was it under financial stress? To what extent did it accept responsibility and cooperate in the investigation? Had it engaged in previous misconduct? What was the primary agency conducting the investigation?

Considering all the criminal statutes that the defendant may have possibly violated, which one did the investigative agency believe was the "lead charge?" What is the dollar loss for which the offender is held responsible? If the prosecutors decided not to act on the agency's recommendations, what was the reason for their declination? On the other hand, if the prosecutors decided to move ahead, when did they actually file the criminal charge in court and who was the judge who received it? What were the actual charges, and the ultimate outcome on each? Did the sentence depart from sentencing guidelines, and if so, for what reason? What was the sentence, including restitution amounts ordered or other special conditions imposed? Was a monitor appointed as part of the sentence or plea agreement?