TRAC – Striking Judge-to-Judge Differences in Federal Criminal Caseloads

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on November 9, 2012

“An analysis of case-by-case records covering more than 400,000 defendants has found surprising variations in the criminal caseloads of individual federal judges for the nation as a whole and in some instances among the judges serving in the same courthouse. The extent of these differences, disclosed in a study by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), raises concerns about a rarely examined question: are there serious problems in the way the government as a whole is managing the federal prosecution of criminal cases? For better comparability, the study focused on all 430 active judges who served for the entire 70-month period ending in July 2012. These judges were located in 179 courthouses across the United States. A key finding was that among certain courthouses — including Wichita, Los Angeles, Beaumont, Camden and Manhattan — there were judges whose criminal caseloads were two to three times higher than their colleagues. In other locations, however, the judge-to-judge difference were negligible. There also were extreme variations in the average per-judge criminal caseloads in the various districts, with the judges in Washington, D.C. handling 147 defendants during the study period while the figure in Las Cruces was 7,020. The location of the courthouses with different caseloads was sometimes unexpected. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for example, outranked Phoenix, Arizona.”

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