Thursday, February 28, 2008

The new sentencing data are here!

To borrow from Steve Martin, "The new sentencing data are here! The new sentencing data are here!

OK, so perhaps readers won't be scurrying to search for their name like Martin in "The Jerk," eager to see it in print because it means "I'm somebody now," but Doc Berman brings word that the FY 2006 federal sentencing data are now online, and for data geeks it provides some interesting annual fodder:
2007 Annual Report and Sourcebook: The 2007 Annual Report presents an overview of major Commission activities and accomplishments for fiscal year 2006. See the Commission's 2007 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics for descriptive figures, tables, and charts, and selected district, circuit, and national sentencing data.
You've heard the term, "Don't make a federal case out of it"? Well, 72,865 times in 2006, somebody did (that's the total number of federal sentences issued nationwide), and a surprisingly large number of those cases, 18.4% of the national total, came from Texas: (Click on links for fact sheets for each district)
Eastern District: 979 convictions, 1.3% of national total
Northern District: 1,052, 1.4%
Southern District: 5,582, 7.7%
Western District: 5,779, 7.9%

Total: 13,392 convictions, 18.4% of national total
Clearly the numbers in Texas' Southern and Western Districts are driven by immigration cases, but the volume is stunning. Both districts alone processed more cases last year than most entire federal circuits - indeed both districts alone processed more cases than every other Circuit except the Ninth! (Texas is in the 5th Circuit, which is based in New Orleans and includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.)

Nationally, immigration accounted for 24.3% of federal cases (though more in TX), and drugs accounted for 34.4%, followed by firearms charges at a distant third 11.6%.

Most federal cases never get to trial, but are plea bargained away. One observes wide disparities in the rate of plea bargains in cases among Texas districts, which could be partially but not entirely explained by immigration cases. Here are the portion of federal cases in each district that went to trial last year:
Eastern 2.8% (27 cases)
Northern 4.8% (51 cases)
Southern 1.9% (106 cases)
Western 1.8% (105 cases)
That's a microscopic percentage of cases going to trial, isn't it? If in your mind's eye you believe the job of a lawyer or judge is to "try cases," these statistics should dissuade you of that misconception: The modern justice system's function is to plea cases, not try them.

Considering the high rate of plea bargains, the government exerts a great deal of control over sentencing. So when you hear complaints that federal prisons are running out of room or that we need more prisons for immigration detention, remember a surprising amount of new incarceration being generated through federal cases, particularly in immigration cases, appears to be volitional - i.e., something that's under control of the judges within the bounds of current law. According to a table titled, "Imprisonment rates for offenders eligible for non-prison sentences," in 2007 90% of immigration cases that could have received a non-prison sentence instead resulted in prison sentences, more than twice the rate of any other category.

There are lots of interesting data here for those concerned with the federal courts - these tidbits are just a teaser.

See similar (but not as comprehensive) data on Texas state courts here.


Ed Veronda said...

Good, thorough, posting.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thank, Western - are you a Texan? To my knowledge we've only got two other Lone Star ADA bloggers, at Dallas Sidebar and Life at the Harris County Criminal Law Center. Anyway, welcome to the blogosphere.

Anonymous said...

Even tho I'm familiar with the general statistics, it is clear that nothing has changed.

Thanks for pointing out that 90% of immigration imprisonment was a choice made rather than mandatory.

Immigration reform cannot come fast enough.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Just to clarify, it's not exactly right that "90% of immigration imprisonment was a choice".

Rather, when there's an option not to incarcerate, 90% of the time in immigration cases they go with prison. A minor distinction, but there are immigration (and other) cases with mandatory prison time that aren't included on that chart.

Anonymous said...

I just noticed the three biggest things we incarcerate people for are drugs, immigration and gun crimes, which are all three things we could just legalize and empty the stupid prisons. Everything else is small potatoes

By these stats, that would cut the prison population by some insane figure like 69%.

What would the prison industrial complex do with themselves if all they had to keep track of were violent criminals and crooks?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but when jails get overcrowded they release the violent offenders first - to scare the hell out of citizen taxpayers. The rabble still haven't figured out this scam. And no, the criminal justice system has little to do with protecting citizenry: it's all about socking it to "offenders". And many of those charges are driven by promotion of a busybody network that fingers annoying people and habits - like drug use. Blaming brown skin people coming over here to work at low wage jobs also figures in with the busybodies.

Anonymous said...

Scott: Did you read the Chronicle article about Madden and Whitmire
receiving Kudo's for their prison legislation?

Doesn't anybody remember When Ann Richards (RIP) had all the SAFP's built(Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facilties)?

Prior to all of those beds coming on-line the politicians denigrated the concept and forced the beds, and in some cases facilities, to be used for other purposes.I don't remember who the House Corrections Chair was at the time. Allen, now a lobbiest, or Hightower, now an executive with UTMB Managed Health Care? Wasn't Whitmire the Chair on the Senate side?

IMO we have turned back the clock to the late 80's. Parole violators will not be sanctioned due to limited space; those arrested for multiple offenses will no longer plea bargain to just the drug offense; our court system will be further taxed. And there will be not be enough slots for the offender placement into the community programs.

Parole officers will continue their burnout and will only be able to keep up with the paperwork. I could go on and on but it would be an exercise in futility. Thanks for letting me vent and have a good weekend.

Retired 2004