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September 26, 2012

A review of the year that was 2011 in federal sentencing

The US Sentencing Commission has this week released this basic report "Overview of Federal Criminal Cases, Fiscal Year 2011." Though there is no new remarkable data in this report, this overview provides an effective reminder of what the (still growing) massive federal sentencing system is all about.  Here is part of the start of the report:

The United States Sentencing Commission received information on 86,361 federal criminal cases in which the offender was sentenced in fiscal year 2011. Among these cases, 86,201 involved an individual offender and 160 involved a corporation or “organizational” offender....

The vast majority of the cases reported to the Commission involve an individual defendant. Over the last decade, the number of these cases has increased every year except one.  In fiscal year 2011, the increase was 2.7 percent over the number of such cases in fiscal year 2010.  Cases involving immigration, drugs, fraud, or firearms continue to be the most common federal criminal cases and make up the vast majority of federal felonies and Class A misdemeanors.  These four crime types have been the most common for the last decade. In fiscal year 2011, these crimes accounted for 83.0 percent of all cases reported to the Commission.

Immigration cases continued to be the fastest growing segment of cases in the federal system. In fiscal year 2011, there were 29,717 immigration cases reported to the Commission, an increase of 1,213 cases from the prior fiscal year. In the last ten fiscal years, the number of cases of this type has increased by 153.2 percent, while the total federal caseload has grown by 33.9 percent....

The number of drug cases has been relatively stable over the last five fiscal years, but because of the overall increase in federal cases, the portion of the criminal caseload attributable to those cases decreased to 29.1 percent in fiscal year 2011.... Firearms cases were 9.2 percent of the caseload in fiscal year 2011, a decrease of 2.4 percentage points from five years ago.  The proportion of fraud cases over that period also was relatively stable at 9.8 percent in fiscal year 2011, but has declined slightly from 10.7 percent in fiscal year 2007....

The vast majority of convicted defendants plead guilty.  In fiscal year 2011, more than 96 percent of all offenders did so, a rate that has been largely the same for ten years.  When offenders pled guilty, 44.0 percent received a sentence below the applicable sentencing guideline range, either at the request of the government, at their own request, or initiated by the court.  Approximately 61 percent (61.5%) of these below range sentences were requested by the government, usually because the defendant had provided substantial assistance to the government or had agreed to have his or her case handled as part of an early disposition program.

A little simple division brings a little more perspective to these number: with more than 86,000 federal sentencings of individuals in FY2011, the system averaged over 1,650 sentencings per week and thus more than 330 federal sentencing per federal work-day.  Put even more starkly, in the 15 minutes it took me to put together this post, on average 10 more persons were sentenced by the federal district judges.

September 26, 2012 at 05:23 PM | Permalink


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Doug, in the 15 minutes it took you to write that piece, the BOP's 218,600 inmates collectively served 6.2 years, and in that same 15 minutes, it cost taxpayers approximately $173,600 to house them!

Posted by: Mark Allenbaugh | Sep 26, 2012 10:17:50 PM

Only 160 sentencings of corporations versus 86,201 sentencings of human beings.

Too bad us humans can't get deferred prosecution agreements as well...

Oh I forgot that humans are just persons, not super-persons.

Lanny Breuer's recent speeech extolling the virtues of corporate deferred prosecution agreements was nothing more than an elegant rationalization for the Bush and Obama administrations' exemption of corporations from the rule of law.

An now we see the outrageous result of this unprecedented new policy in the above statistics. Hey if you are a corporate executive, why not commit crimes? The Obama DOJ has all but promised you that the worst that would ever happen -- even if the crime is exposed and proven dead-to-rights -- is a deferred prosecution agreement.

Posted by: James | Sep 26, 2012 11:26:15 PM

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