Study: US judges' criminal caseloads vary widely

AP News

11/11/2012 6:50:50 PM - AP News
WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal judges across the nation are shouldering criminal caseloads that vary widely in size, sometimes even among judges in the same courthouse.That's the finding of a study released Sunday by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, at Syracuse University. It found three courthouses where the judge with the largest criminal caseload had sentenced more than twice the number of defendants as the judge with the smallest caseload from October 2006 through July 2012. They were Los Angeles; Beaumont, Texas; and Camden, N.J.Overall, the study found 18 courthouses where the heaviest sentencing load was at least 1.4 times larger than the smallest.The study was made possible because the clearinghouse, which uses the Freedom of Information Act to collect criminal justice data, earlier this year assembled the first publicly available database of sentencing records, sortable by judge.Judges in the courthouses with the widest disparities cited unique local circumstances to explain the differences.In Beaumont, there are just two judges: Marcia A. Crone, who sentenced 1,288 people during the period, and Ron Clark, who sentenced around 618. Both judges called that divide a reflection of how they divide the work in other courthouses they must travel to as part of their responsibilities, with Clark handling more civil cases and Crone more criminal cases.TRAC's comparison of caseloads between regions confirmed that courthouses on the Southwest border had by far the highest number of sentences. Atop the list was Judge Robert C. Brack, the only district judge in Las Cruces, N.M., with 7,020 defendants sentenced. The next four were other Texas courthouses in McAllen, Midland, El Paso and Del Rio. Each of the judges in those courthouses averaged more than 4,600 sentences. The report stated that the 11 courthouses with the highest caseloads were all on the border, "because of the government's sharply increased emphasis on the criminal enforcement of immigration matters."