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How Is Covid-19 Impacting Federal Criminal Enforcement?

“Law enforcement agencies across the country have been referring fewer criminal cases to federal prosecutors since the coronavirus pandemic began. While weekly referrals for federal prosecution during February and the first half of March averaged around 4,500 per week, referrals fell to only 1,800 during the last week of March. Each weekday, U.S. Attorney offices from around the country typically receive hundreds of referrals. Most of these came from federal investigative agencies. Some originate from local and state law enforcement. Each referral is typically assigned to an assistant U.S. attorney who determines whether or not to charge the suspect with committing one or more federal crimes. According to comparisons of case-by-case Department of Justice records obtained by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University after litigation under the Freedom of Information Act, five federal law enforcement agencies were the source of over four out of every five referrals (81%) to federal prosecutors thus far in FY 2020. These agencies, in descending order of referrals were: Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Some differences were found in how specific law enforcement agencies adjusted their activities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. FBI, CBP, ICE and DEA referrals to federal prosecutors all showed a drop off in March. ATF was the lone exception where little change was evident. In addition, the number of referrals from CBP and ICE declined more sharply than did others. In fact, actual declines in ICE’s referrals appear to have begun earlier – in early rather than mid-March…”

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