Study Finds Big Differences in Federal Criminal Caseloads, High Numbers for Border Courts

A new study of criminal sentencing in federal courts has found big differences in caseloads, with border courthouses in Texas and New Mexico doling out the highest number of sentences.

The study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse found the average caseload varied from a low of 147 criminal defendants per judge in the District of Columbia to a high of 7,020 per judge in Las Cruces, N.M., according to an online summary. The numbers are for active judges over a 70-month time period.

Judges along the border have long complained of high caseloads, the Associated Press reports. The study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse said the reason for the influx of criminal cases was due to an increased government emphasis on the criminal enforcement of immigration matters.

Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of Washington, D.C., defended his court’s low numbers in an AP interview. He said his court handles many time-consuming and complex cases, including public corruption and white-collar criminal cases, while criminal cases may be more routine in the busy districts.

The TRAC study focused on the criminal caseloads of 430 active federal judges in 179 courthouses for the past 70 months. Researchers found big differences within courthouses, as well as between courthouses.

The study identified four courthouses where the criminal caseload for one or more of the judges serving in them was twice the caseload of their colleagues: in Los Angeles; Beaumont, Texas; Camden, N.J.; and Manhattan.

Though cases are randomly assigned, some clerks interviewed by TRAC said the odds of selection could be modified on orders of the chief judge. According to TRAC, “the surprising extent of the variations” documented in the study raises “a rarely examined question: are there serious overall problems in the way the government as a whole is managing the federal prosecution of criminal cases?”

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