Worst Federal Districts to Be Charged With a Crime

Judicial Business of the U.S. Courts publishes the most detailed statistical tables on the work of the federal Judiciary. This week it released its statistical analysis for the 12 month period ending September 30, 2011. A summary is here, and the full report, with tables, is here.

The summary and news accounts of the report skip some of the report's most interesting statistics on criminal cases. The chart that leapt out at me is how bail has become the exception in federal courts while pre-trial detention has become the rule. First the punishment, then the verdict.

Where's the worst place to be charged with a crime? The district most likely to deny you bail, keep you locked up for months or years awaiting trial, in either federal detention centers or dismal county jails not meant to house long-term prisoners, where you are unable to work and provide for your family, have no access to meaningful rehabilitative programs and have only limited access to your lawyer in cramped visiting rooms to prepare your defense. [More...]

Here's the chart.

The 8th Amendment provides:

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed.

Unfortunately, the Bail Reform Act of 1984 provides differently, eviscerating this important constitutional right. The results for the 12 months ending in September, 2011:

Nationally, out of 112,000 defendants, 66% of defendants were ordered detained without bond for the duration of the case. Only 34% were granted release on bail.

The district with the highest detention rate -- 94% -- is Arizona. Out of 21,444 people charged, 20,202 were detained. Next is New Mexico. 85.1% of 3,538 defendants were detained. In the the Western District of TX, 77.5% of 10,418 defendants were detained. Perhaps that's not surprising because they are border states with a huge number of cases filed against undocumented persons, who don't get bail because ICE lodges detainers.

But what's the excuse for the rest of these districts?

  • Western Dist. of AK: 79.4% detained (out of 267 Defendants)
  • Wyoming: 73.6% detained (of 356 defendants)
  • Middle Dist. N. Carolina: 72.5% detained (out of 350 defendants)
  • Idaho: 69.9% detained (of 302 defendants)
  • Colorado: 69.4% detained (out of 559 defendants)
  • Eastern Dist. of CA (Sacramento): 69.1% detained (out of 1,002 defendants)
  • Eastern Dist. of WA: 69% (out of 451 defendants)
  • Eastern Dist. of LA: 68.8% detained (out of 330 defendants)
  • Southern Dist. of IN: 68.1% detained (out of 433 defendants)
  • Western Dist. of NC: 66.9% derained (out of 638 defendants)
  • Rhode Island: 66.5% detained (out of 209 defendants)

Where are you most likely to make bond? (Aside from Guam, which has the highest release rate)

  • Middle District of Alabama: Only 22.6% of defendants detained
  • Hawaii: Only 32.6% of defendants detained
  • So. Dist. Ohio: Only 35.0 of defendants detained
  • Eastern Dist. WI: Only 35.0 of defendants detained
  • Northern Dist. AL: Only 35.2% of defendants detained
  • Eastern District of MI: Only 36.6% of defendants detained
  • Western Dist. WI: Only 36.7% of defendants detained
  • Middle Dist. of LA: Only 36.8% of defendants detained

The numbers are slightly better with all immigration cases excluded.

Alice in Wonderland, Chapter 12:

Let the jury consider their verdict,’ the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

‘No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first - verdict afterwards.’

‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. ‘The idea of having the sentence first!’

‘Hold your tongue!’ said the Queen, turning purple.

‘I won’t!’ said Alice.

‘Off with her head!’ the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.

How many of detained defendants lose the will to fight and end up pleading guilty? The average length of time nationally from filing of charges through case disposition for 101,149 defendants is 15.7 months.

How many of those granted bond obtained it by agreeing to plead guilty and cooperate, after being told by the Government if they did not, it would seek a detention order. Unfortunately, there's no chart for this statistic.

It's clear not very many federal defendants exercise their right to go to trial. And those that do don't fare very well.

  • Out of 101,149 defendants nationally, only 2,086 opted for a jury trial.
  • Out of the 2,086 defendants who had a jury trial, there were only 241 acquittals. (Those opting for a trial by judge instead of jury fared better: 217 were convicted and 145 were acquitted.)

In Colorado, a total of 785 defendants were charged. 86 had their charges dismissed before trial. 685 out of the remaining 699 defendants pleaded guilty. All 14 of those who went to trial, including 12 who opted for a jury trial and 2 who opted for a bench trial, were convicted.

[Note: Not all the charts match. For example, in this chart, it says 20 defendants in Colorado went to trial, 18 to a jury and 2 before the judge. Since only 18 were sentenced, either two were acquitted or their verdicts were set aside after trial. Also, the total number of defendants in the trial and detention charts differ, presumably because the detenton charts do not include "dismissals, cases in which release is not possible within 90 days, transfers out, and cases that were later converted to diversion cases during the period."]

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  • Display: Sort:
    alternate view (1.00 / 2) (#7)
    by diogenes on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 08:07:29 PM EST
         If SO few take cases to trial, and if SO few of those are acquitted, then maybe the government is detaining those who are in fact guilty of federal crimes.  Those who are guilty get credit for time served.
         Diogenes Theorem says that you don't get charged with a federal crime with no bail unless you're committed a lot of crimes for which you had little punishment or even were never arrested for.  Maybe the lawyers here can correct me with stories of Sunday School teachers held without bail in federal prison on their first arrest.
         If more than 336 of 101,000 (say, maybe 10 or 20 percent, or ten to twenty thousand) were found to be innocent, it would be a little more concerning.
         Maybe we need to concentrate on providing defenses for those who are innocent or likely to be innocent who are up on federal charges (especially those with no prior criminal history or associations) rather than worrying so much about pretrial detention for those who are almost certainly guilty anyway.  

    No one sells lamp batteries in your town? (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by Edger on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 08:30:33 PM EST
    Very strange argument (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by jackazz on Fri Mar 16, 2012 at 08:36:58 AM EST
    No one they are detaining is guilty.  By definition, they are innocent until a guilty verdict comes in. This is a basic right that you seem to want the government to ignore along with the right to a speedy trial.

    Diogones wrong again (none / 0) (#9)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Mar 16, 2012 at 01:08:17 AM EST
    Please do some research before you comment. I've warned you repeatedly that your comments with false information will be deleted. I even gave you the link to the statute (sections d & e).

    Under federal law, defendants charged with any drug offense carrying a possible penalty of more than 10 years in jail (which is most of them) and a variety of other offenses are presumed to be both a flight risk and a danger to the community. This applies to Sunday school teachers as well as repeat offenders.

    (3) Subject to rebuttal by the person, it shall be presumed that no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the appearance of the person as required and the safety of the community if the judicial officer finds that there is probable cause to believe that the person committed--

    (A) an offense for which a maximum term of imprisonment of ten years or more is prescribed in the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.), the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (21 U.S.C. 951 et seq.), or chapter 705 of title 46;

    interesting numbers (none / 0) (#1)
    by cpinva on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 09:00:21 AM EST
    with regards to bail, conceivably, these could be the defendants most likely to skip town, if granted bail. just speculating.

    with respect to pleading/conviction rates, presumptively, these charges wouldn't have been brought, at the federal level, had there not been a pretty solid case to begin with. again, just speculating.

    post 9/11, the bill of rights seems to have become more the "bill of suggestions".

    that's a whole lot of folks with the wherewithal (none / 0) (#3)
    by BobTinKY on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 10:18:47 AM EST
    to skip town and lose the posted bail.

    Pretty solid case or pretty good odds the accused will accept a plea deal given the prospect of indefinite incarceration, potentially lengthier terms for exercising right to trial, and threats to bring charges against loved ones?


    It's That the Problem ? (none / 0) (#4)
    by ScottW714 on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 11:25:12 AM EST
    Deciding the the punishment, no bail, before the trial.

    What is really needed is other years to see if it's trending;  have they figured out denying bail equates to a higher rate of conviction/guilty pleas ?

    Like "Bill of Suggestions", so true.

    I think it would be very helpful in knowing how many of these people are foreign Nationals.  With the world police dragging people from every corner of the planet, seems like those would skew the numbers fairly easily.  And it doesn't seem likely that an non-American would receive bail.


    Land of the Free and home of... (none / 0) (#2)
    by DeportRumsfeld on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 09:21:49 AM EST
    The Brave? Scary stuff...we are looking like pre-Gorbacev Soviet Union every day...

    Don't need no stinkin Law School (none / 0) (#5)
    by NYShooter on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 12:15:57 PM EST
    Here's all you need to know about

    our "democracy"

    caution: naughty word alert


    If you want to pick your own tables (none / 0) (#6)
    by Peter G on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 05:20:32 PM EST
    of statistics from those released today, without downloading the whole PDF that TL linked to, here is the webpage with all the different hotlinks.

    This study is very disturbing (none / 0) (#11)
    by jackazz on Fri Mar 16, 2012 at 08:40:02 AM EST
    ... especially when you consider the huge number of vague federal laws on the books.  

    Thank you for the depressing start to my day.

    Let 'em scoot. Bail money is pure profit. (none / 0) (#12)
    by Mr Natural on Sun Mar 18, 2012 at 09:31:45 AM EST
    Trial costs, Jail costs, Prison costs are an unnecessary drain on an already encumbered economy.