Federal Prosecution Levels Remain at Historic Highs

Table 1. Criminal Prosecutions
Number Latest Month 18,135
Percent Change from previous month 6.7
Percent Change from 1 year ago 57.3
Percent Change from 5 years ago
(Including Magistrate Court)
Percent Change from 5 years ago
(Excluding Magistrate Court)

The latest available data from the Justice Department show that during October 2018 the government reported 18,135 new prosecutions, an increase of 6.7 percent over the previous month, and 57.3 percent over this period last year[1]. The increase in federal criminal prosecutions is largely driven by a rise in immigration-related prosecutions beginning in March 2018. Nearly 70 percent of all criminal prosecutions in federal courts in October 2018 were immigration-related.

The total number of federal criminal prosecutions for FY 2018 was 165,070, the highest since 2013, and representing a 35 percent increase over FY 2017 when federal criminal prosecutions totaled 122,492. Approximately 61 percent of all federal criminal prosecutions in FY 2018 were immigration-related. Figure 1 shows the monthly rise in the percentage of immigration-related prosecutions, and the decline of all other types of prosecutions on a monthly basis over the duration of the Trump Administration to date. Immigration and drug-related prosecutions are the two largest categories of cases brought before federal district and magistrate courts.

Figure 1. Immigration-related prosecutions drive monthly increases in federal criminal prosecutions
(Click for larger image)

The long-term monthly trends in number of prosecutions can be seen more clearly in Figure 2. Where a prosecution was initially filed in U.S. Magistrate Court and then transferred to the U.S. District Court, the magistrate filing date was used since this provides an earlier indicator of actual trends.

Figure 2. Monthly Prosecutions Filed
October 2003 - October 2018
(Click for larger image)

In October 2018, 13,124 defendants in cases for these matters were filed in U.S. magistrate courts. These courts handle less serious misdemeanor cases, including what are called "petty offenses." In addition, complaints are sometimes filed in the magistrate courts before an indictment or information is entered. In these cases, the matter starts in the magistrate courts and later moves to the district court where subsequent proceedings take place. In U.S. District Courts, 5,011 defendants in new cases for these matters were charged. In addition, there were 2,249 defendants whose cases moved from the magistrate courts to the U.S. district courts after an indictment or information was filed. TRAC's data and this report cover all cases filed before both magistrate and U.S. district courts.

Top Ranked Judicial Districts

Focusing on filings in U.S. district courts that typically handle more serious offenses, in October 2018 the Justice Department said the government brought 2,675 prosecutions for every ten million people in the United States.

Understandably, there is great variation in the per capita number of prosecutions that are filed in each of the nation's ninety-four federal judicial districts.

The districts registering the largest number of prosecutions per capita for these matters last month are shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Top 10 Districts (per ten million people)
Judicial District Percapita Count Rank 1 year ago 5 years ago
N Mexico 23,447 408 1 5 4
Cal, S 16,361 480 2 3 3
Texas, W 14,062 846 3 1 2
Ark, E 8,627 118 4 24 52
Ala, S 7,670 54 5 68 63
Texas, S 7,535 612 6 2 1
Tenn, E 6,867 150 7 30 29
S Dakota 6,594 47 8 41 34
Arizona 6,123 358 9 4 5
Tenn, W 5,429 71 10 25 37
  • The District of New Mexico - with 23,447 prosecutions as compared with 2,675 prosecutions per ten million population in the United States - was the most active during October 2018. The District of New Mexico was ranked 5 a year ago, while it was ranked 4 for most frequent use five years ago.

  • The Southern District of California (San Diego) ranked 2nd. The Southern District of California (San Diego) was ranked 3 a year ago, while it was ranked 3 for most frequent use five years ago.

  • Western District of Texas (San Antonio) is now ranking 3rd. The Western District of Texas (San Antonio) was ranked 1 a year ago, while it was ranked 2 for most frequent use five years ago.

The federal judicial district which showed the greatest growth in the rate of prosecutions compared to one year ago - 57.1 percent - was Southern District of Alabama (Mobile). Compared to five years ago, the district with the largest growth - 85.7 percent - was Eastern District of Arkansas (Little Rock).

Top Ranked District Judges

At any one time, there are about 680 federal District Court judges working in the United States. The judges recorded with the largest number of new criminal cases during October 2018 are shown in Table 3.

Table 3. Top Ten Judges
Judge Count Rank 1 year ago 5 years ago
Moses, Alia M. Texas, W 235 1 1 3
Counts, Walter David, III Texas, W 149 2 224 -
Gonzales, Kenneth John N Mexico 115 3 3 37
Ramos, Nelva Gonzales Texas, S 92 4 7 4
Martinez, Philip Ray Texas, W 68 5 13 8
Greer, J. Ronnie Tenn, E 67 6 125 71
Cardone, Kathleen Texas, W 67 6 9 11
Montalvo, Frank Texas, W 66 8 10 10
Guaderrama, David C. Texas, W 66 8 12 13
Olvera, Jose Rolando, Jr. Texas, S 64 10 14 -

Nine out of the "top ten" district court judges were in districts along the southwest border. Magistrate court judges there handle even larger loads.


[1] The one and five-year rates of change in Table 1 are all based upon a six-month moving average.

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.