Federal Prosecution Referrals Plummeted in April Amid Worst of CCP Virus Pandemic

June 3, 2020 Updated: June 4, 2020

Federal prosecutors filed 80 percent fewer cases in April than just two months earlier because of the effects of the CCP virus pandemic, according to data made public by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

“New criminal prosecutions dropped by 80 percent between February and April, from 13,843 during February 2020, before federal shutdowns to control the spread of COVID-19 began, to just 2,824 in April 2020. This means that only one-fifth the usual prosecutions took place,” TRAC stated in a report made public May 28.

More than 107,000 individuals in the United States have died from the CCP virus, which is commonly known as the novel coronavirus. TRAC, a nonprofit organization, uses the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain the most current available data on a variety of activities of the federal government.

The huge decrease in prosecutions was accompanied by a similarly dramatic drop in the number of cases referred to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for possible prosecution.

The data showed 17,593 referrals that led to 13,843 prosecutions and 12,109 convictions in February, according to TRAC. By April, referrals were down to 7,926, prosecutions dropped to 2,824.

There were still 6,638 convictions but most of those were from previously filed cases, and “federal attorneys handling prosecutions already underway were able to strike plea agreements,” TRAC reported.

In terms of types of litigation, the biggest declines in April 2020 compared to the monthly average for the previous five months were seen in civil rights and immigration cases at 92 percent and 86 percent, respectively.

Cases involving challenges to government regulation declined 80 percent during the same period, while white-collar crime dropped 79 percent, weapons charges 77 percent, and environmental cases were down 76 percent.

The data obtained by TRAC also revealed some unexpected trends among the five DOJ investigative agencies whose referrals for prosecution are covered.

Other federal departments and agencies must depend upon DOJ to prosecute cases recommended by them, but they account for only one-fifth of all referrals. The results of their referrals aren’t covered in the data made public by TRAC.

Seventy percent of the cases referred by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency led to prosecutions being filed in federal court by DOJ attorneys.

Next came the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency at 66 percent, followed by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) at 38 percent, the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) agency at 22 percent, and the FBI at only 17 percent.

One reason for the continuing high percentages of immigration referrals resulting in prosecutions, according to TRAC, is “not only are these cases generally simpler to prosecute than many other kinds of federal offenses, but federal prosecutors have had the ability to appoint special assistant U.S. attorneys (actual CBP personnel) to handle many cases, so they added little to their regular attorneys’ workloads.”

Earlier this year, TRAC pointed out that the decrease in illegal crossings of the U.S. border with Mexico partially accounted for the decrease in CBP referrals.

But “while ICE waited until March 18 to announce it would halt arrests during the pandemic except for those necessary to ‘maintain public safety and national security,’ actual declines in ICE’s referrals appear to have begun in early March. In contrast, declines in criminal referrals from CBP waited until mid-March to appear.”

TRAC stated that “historically, the FBI has usually had the smallest proportion of its referrals result in criminal prosecutions, but the relative drop for April was also the largest among investigative agencies.”

Regarding the overall impact of CCP virus on federal prosecutions, Ohio State University law professor Douglas Berman wrote on May 20 that “it will be many months (maybe even years) before we can take full stock of COVID shock.”

Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.nyc.