Federal Criminal Prosecutions Down Sharply in July 2016

The latest available data from the Justice Department show that during July 2016 the government reported 9,118 new prosecutions, down 15.5 percent from June. According to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), this number for July is the lowest on record since July of 2007.

Table 1. Criminal Prosecutions
Number during July 2016 9,118
Percent Change from previous month -15.5
Number Fiscal Year-to-date 112,942
Percent Change from previous year -4.0
Percent Change from 5 years ago -16.9
Percent Change from 10 years ago 16.1
Percent Change from 20 years ago 92.0

During the first ten months of FY 2016 the government reported 112,942 new prosecutions. If this activity continues at the same pace, the annual total of prosecutions will be 135,530 for this fiscal year. According to TRAC's detailed analysis, this estimate is down 4.0 percent over the past fiscal year when the number of prosecutions totaled 141,220. See Table 1.

While the overall prosecution filings were down 15.5 percent in July and by 4 percent so far this fiscal year, there was considerable variation by type of crime. Among the major crime categories white collar crime prosecutions dropped by 11.0 percent as compared with the pace of filings during FY 2015. Immigration prosecutions dropped by 4.1 percent from last year, while drug prosecutions rose slightly (up 0.8 percent) and weapon prosecutions jumped by 8.7 percent.

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.

Compared to five years ago when there were 162,997, the estimate of FY 2016 prosecutions of this type is down 16.9 percent. Prosecutions over the past year are still higher than they were ten years ago. Overall, the data show that prosecutions of this type are up 16.1 percent from the level of 116,739 reported in 2006 and up 92 percent from the level of 70,587 reported in 1996.

The long term trend in prosecutions for these matters going back to FY 1996 is shown more clearly in Figure 1. The vertical bars in Figure 1 represent the number of prosecutions of this type recorded each fiscal year. Projected figures for the current fiscal year are shown. Each presidential administration is distinguished by the color of the bars.

Bar chart of shortyear

Figure 1: Criminal Prosecutions over the last 20 years

Leading Program Areas

Cases were classified by prosecutors into more specific types. The single largest number of prosecutions of these matters through July 2016 was for "Immigration", accounting for 52.9 percent of prosecutions.

The second largest number of matters were Prosecutions filed under the program area of "Narcotics/Drugs " (16.4%). The "Other" category in Figure 2 is comprised of a diverse group of programs. The largest specific programs within the "Other" category were: Weapons" (5.5%), "White Collar Crime" (4.6%).

[The Department of Justice is withholding the program area for 6.4% 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.]

Leading Investigative Agencies

The lead investigative agency for prosecutions through July 2016 was "Homeland Security - Customs and Border Protection" accounting for 47.9 percent of prosecutions referred.

As shown in Figure 3, additional agencies with substantial numbers of referrals were: Homeland Security - Immigration and Customs Enforcement (9.5%), "Justice - Federal Bureau of Investigation" (9.5%), "Justice - Drug Enforcement Administration" (8.5%), "Justice - Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives" (5.5%). The "Other" category in Figure 3 is comprised of a diverse group of agencies. The agencies with substantial numbers of within the "Other" category were: Defense" (2.6%), "Interior" (2.5%).

Pie chart of proggrplabel

Figure 2: Specific types of prosecutions
Pie chart of agengrp

Figure 3: Prosecutions by Investigative Agency

Top Ranked Lead Charges

Table 2 shows the top lead charges recorded in the prosecutions of matters filed in U.S. District Court during the first ten months of FY 2016.

Note: There were an additional 493 other lead charges which were not individually ranked. See latest monthly report if you want all lead charges included in rankings for the latest month, or use TRACFED criminal analyzer tool for complete listing for any year.

Table 2. Top Charges Files
Lead Charge Count Rank 1 yr ago 5 yrs ago 10 yrs ago 20 yrs ago
08 USC 1325 - Entry of alien at improper time or place; etc. 30,489 1 1 1 3 22
08 USC 1326 - Reentry of deported alien 24,864 2 2 2 1 3
21 USC 841 - Drug Abuse Prevention & Control-Prohibited acts A 9,173 3 3 3 2 1
21 USC 846 - Attempt and conspiracy 7,048 4 4 4 4 2
18 USC 922 - Firearms; Unlawful acts 5,572 5 5 5 5 4
08 USC 1324 - Bringing in and harboring certain aliens 3,151 6 6 6 6 11
Federal Regulation 1,756 7 7 8 15 167
18 USC 7 - Special Maritime/Territorial Jurisdiction of US 1,158 8 9 22 16 18
21 USC 952 - Importation of controlled substances 1,151 9 11 9 8 10
Other US Code Section 1,125 10 8 18 39 21

  • "Entry of alien at improper time or place; etc." (Title 8 U.S.C Section 1325) was the most frequent recorded lead charge. Title 8 U.S.C Section 1325 was ranked 1st a year ago, while it was the 1st most frequently invoked five years ago. It was ranked 3rd ten years ago and 22nd twenty years ago.

  • Ranked 2nd in frequency was the lead charge "Reentry of deported alien" under Title 8 U.S.C Section 1326. Title 8 U.S.C Section 1326 was ranked 2nd a year ago, while it was the 2nd most frequently invoked five years ago. It was ranked 1st ten years ago and 3rd twenty years ago.

  • Ranked 3rd was "Drug Abuse Prevention & Control-Prohibited acts A" under Title 21 U.S.C Section 841. Title 21 U.S.C Section 841 was ranked 3rd a year ago, while it was the 3rd most frequently invoked five years ago. It was ranked 2nd ten years ago and 1st twenty years ago.

Top Ranked Judicial Districts

During FY 2015 the Justice Department said the government obtained 439.4 prosecutions for every one million people in the United States. If pace during the first ten months of FY 2016 continues at the same rate, prosecutions for one million people in the United States this year will be 421.7. Understandably, there is great variation in the per capita number of prosecutions in each of the nation's ninety-four federal judicial districts

Table 3. Top Charges Files
Judicial District Percapita Count Rank 1yr ago 5yrs ago 10yrs ago 20yrs ago
Texas, W 3,219 18,719 1 4 4 5 6
N Mexico 3,036 5,275 2 5 3 4 10
Texas, S 2,990 23,619 3 2 2 3 15
Arizona 2,765 15,731 4 1 1 2 9
Wyoming 2,187 1,068 5 3 5 1 14
Cal, S 1,342 3,891 6 6 6 6 2
S Dakota 694 488 7 9 10 9 5
N Dakota 564 356 8 8 12 14 16
Hawaii 562 671 9 7 7 10 3
Virg, E 543 2,801 10 10 9 8 18

  • The Western District of Texas (San Antonio)—with 3,218.69 prosecutions as compared with 421.7 prosecutions per one million people in the United States—was the most active through July 2016. The Western District of Texas (San Antonio) was ranked 4th a year ago as well as five years ago. The district's position ten years ago was 5th and 6th twenty years ago.

  • The District of New Mexico ranked 2nd. The District of New Mexico was ranked 5th a year ago, while it was ranked 3rd five years ago. The district's position ten years ago was 4th and 10th twenty years ago.

  • The Southern District of Texas (Houston) now ranks 3rd. The Southern District of Texas (Houston) was ranked 2nd a year ago as well as five years ago. The district's position ten years ago was 3rd and 15th twenty years ago.

Compared to 10 years ago, North Dakota now ranked in the top 10 did not appear in the top ten.

And compared to 20 years ago, Wyoming, Southern District of Texas (Houston), North Dakota and Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria) were not sufficiently active to then make the top 10.

The federal judicial district which showed the greatest projected growth in the rate of prosecutions compared to one year ago—18.9 percent—was New Mexico. Compared to five years ago, the district with the largest projected growth—10.2 percent—was Western District of Texas (San Antonio).

TRAC offers free monthly reports on program categories such as white collar crime, immigration, drugs, weapons and terrorism and on selected government agencies such as the IRS, FBI, ATF and DHS. For the latest information on prosecutions and convictions, go to http://trac.syr.edu/tracreports/bulletins/. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports for a specific agency, judicial district, program category, lead charge or judge via the TRAC Data Interpreter.