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Study: Federal prosecutions reach lowest levels in almost 20 years

In our previous post, we discussed how newly appointed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it clear that one of his primary objectives in his role as the nation's top cop will be to crack down on violent crime -- especially as it relates to firearms - and drug-related offenses -- and that federal prosecutors will now be taking the necessary actions to carry out this directive.

While it's far too early to make any sort of firm projections as to the increase in federal prosecutions this course of action will invariably result in, it's safe to say that it will represent a dramatic departure from recent years.

To illustrate, consider the recent release of figures by the Pew Research Center demonstrating that after hitting their zenith back in 2011, federal prosecutions have actually declined for the last five years and are currently at their lowest levels in almost 20 years.

Breaking the numbers down further, the Pew Research Center, which counted only prosecutions, not conviction or sentences, reached the following conclusions after examining data from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts:

  • In fiscal year 2016, federal criminal charges were filed against 77,152 defendants, a 25 percent decline from the 102,617 defendants charged in fiscal year 2011 and the lowest yearly total since 1997.
  • The last five years have seen marked declines in the three classes of charges most commonly pursued by federal prosecutors: Immigration-related charges have fallen by 26 percent, property-related charges have fallen by 39 percent and drug-related charges have fallen by 23 percent.

As for the reason behind this sustained decline, Pew researchers theorize that it could be attributed to a host of factors, including the 2013 order to the Department of Justice from then-AG Eric Holder to only bring cases that serve a "a substantial federal interest," something he later clarified in a speech as meaning that prosecutors “cannot -- and should not -- bring every case or charge every defendant who stands accused of violating federal law.”

It will be interesting to see how the DOJ plans to go about increasing its prosecutions for violent crime going forward, especially given that this task is typically filled by state and local governments.

As we stated last week, what all of this really serves to underscore is that those who learn they are under investigation or facing federal charges for any manner of violent crime must seriously consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible given the gravity of the potential consequences.   

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