Skip navigation
PYHS - Header

Overview of Federal Criminal Cases 2014, US Sentencing Commission, 2015

Download original document:
Brief thumbnail
This text is machine-read, and may contain errors. Check the original document to verify accuracy.
Overview of Federal Criminal Cases
Fiscal Year 2014

U N I T E D STAT E S SE N T E NC I NG COM M ISSION

United States Sentencing Commission
One Columbus Circle, N.E.
Washington, DC 20002
www.ussc.gov

Patti B. Saris
Chair
Charles R. Breyer
Vice Chair
Dabney L. Friedrich
Commissioner
Rachel E. Barkow
Commissioner
William H. Pryor, Jr.
Commissioner
J. Patricia Wilson Smoot
Ex Officio
Jonathan J. Wroblewski
Ex Officio

Kenneth P. Cohen
Staff Director
Glenn R. Schmitt
Director
Office of Research and Data
Louis Reedt
Deputy Director
Office of Research and Data

August 2015

Overview of Federal
Criminal Cases
Fiscal Year 2014
Glenn R. Schmitt, J.D., M.P.P.
Director
Office of Research and Data
Hyun J. Konfrst, M.S.
Research Associate
Office of Research and Data

The Case Load at a Glance

The United States Sentencing Commission1 received
information on 75,998 federal criminal cases in which the
offender was sentenced in fiscal year 2014.2 Among these
cases, 75,836 involved an individual offender and 162
involved a corporation or other “organizational” offender. This
publication provides an overview of those cases.

Cases involving drugs,
immigration, firearms, or fraud
accounted for 81.5 percent of all
cases reported to the
Commission.

The vast majority of federal cases involve an individual
defendant. The number of individual offenders sentenced
each year grew steadily after the Commission began
reporting sentencing data in 1988, reaching a high of 86,201
individual offenders sentenced in fiscal year 2011.3 Since
then the number of cases has decreased each year. In fiscal year 2014, the number of
individual offender cases reported to the Commission fell by 4,199 (5.2%) cases from the
previous year to 75,836. Since fiscal year 2011, the number of these cases has declined by
12.0 percent.

For more than a decade, cases
involving drugs, immigration,
firearms, or fraud have
comprised the vast majority of
federal felonies and Class A
misdemeanors. This trend
continued in fiscal year 2014,
as these crimes accounted for
81.5 percent of all cases
reported to the Commission.

United States Sentencing Commission

Drug cases have traditionally been the most
common federal cases. However, beginning
in fiscal year 2009, the number of
immigration cases steadily increased,
reaching a high of 29,717 such cases in
fiscal year 2011. That year immigration
cases were the most common offense in the
federal system. During fiscal years 2012 and
2013, immigration cases equaled drug cases
as the most common cases in the federal
system. Since then, however, the number of
immigration cases has decreased
significantly.
In fiscal year 2014, 24,011 drug cases were
reported to the Commission, accounting for
31.7 percent of all cases. Most of these
cases involved drug trafficking offenses.
That year there were 22,238 immigration
cases, accounting for 29.3 percent of the
total federal caseload that year. This
number was a decrease of 2,734 fewer
immigration cases from the prior year, a 10.9
percent decline.

There were 7,925 firearms cases reported to the Commission in fiscal year 2014, only slightly
fewer than the year before. These cases represented 10.5 percent of the caseload, about the
same portion of the overall caseload that they represented in fiscal year 2010. There were
7,614 fraud cases in fiscal year 2014, accounting for 10.0 percent of the total federal caseload;
however, this number represents a 2.9 percent reduction from the year before.

2

 

Overview of Federal Criminal Cases – Fiscal Year 2014

Individual Offender Characteristics
The vast majority of criminal offenders are men, and
their proportion of the total offender population has
remained constant for more than a decade. In fiscal
year 2014, 86.0 percent of all offenders were men,
compared with 86.8 percent in fiscal year 2010, and
86.4 percent in fiscal year 2005. Among female
offenders, the most common crime was drug
trafficking (committed by 31.6% of all women
offenders). Although much fewer in number,
embezzlement continues to be the only crime for
which female offenders outnumber male offenders
(56.0% to 44.0%).
In fiscal year 2014, 52.0 percent of all federal
offenders were Hispanic, while 23.6 percent were
White, and 20.3 percent were Black. The racial
composition of offenders varied widely across
offense types. For example, most Hispanic offenders
(80.2%) were sentenced for one of two types of
offenses — immigration or drug trafficking crimes.
Among drug offenders, racial and ethnic background
varied depending on the type of drug involved in the
crime.
A majority of federal offenders are United States
citizens (58.0%). Most non-citizens offenders
committed either an immigration offense (66.2%) or a
drug trafficking offense (17.4%).
The average age of offenders in fiscal year 2014
was 36 years old, only a slight increase from the
average age of 35 for offenders sentenced in
fiscal year 2005 and 2010. Almost half of all
federal offenders sentenced in fiscal year 2014
(46.6%) had not completed high school, and only
6.4 percent of offenders had completed college.

Case Disposition
The vast majority of offenders plead guilty. In
fiscal year 2014, 97.1 percent of all convicted
defendants pleaded guilty. Among those who did,
51.9 percent received a sentence below the
applicable sentencing guideline range, either at the request of the government, at their own
request, or initiated by the court. Sixty percent of these below range sentences were requested
by the government, usually because the defendant had provided substantial assistance to the
government or had agreed to have his or her case handled as part of an early disposition
program. In comparison, in the 2.9 percent of cases where the offender did not plead guilty,
3

United States Sentencing Commission

48.1 percent received a sentence below the guideline range, although only 9.7 percent of these
below range sentences were requested by the government.
Most federal offenders convicted of a felony or
Class A misdemeanor receive a sentence of
incarceration. In fiscal year 2014, an
imprisonment sentence was imposed on 87.0
percent of all offenders. Another 7.2 percent of
offenders received a sentence of probation (i.e.,
where no type of confinement was imposed), a
rate that has decreased over time from a high
of 14.8 percent in 1993. Among those
offenders not sentenced to one of these two
types of sentence, 2.8 percent were sentenced
to periods of probation and some type of
confinement and 3.0 percent were sentenced to
a combination of imprisonment and community
confinement, such as in a half-way house or through home confinement.4
The length of imprisonment imposed on offenders varies greatly depending on the seriousness
of the offense and the criminal history of the offender. Offenders committing murder received
the longest terms of confinement in fiscal year 2014, at 273
months on average. Crimes involving violations of
Eighty-seven percent of
offenders were sentenced to
environment and wildlife statutes were punished least
imprisonment.
severely, with offenders receiving confinement sentences of
four months, on average.
Overall, 71.1 percent of offenders received a sentence of less than five years, 16.5 percent of
offenders received a sentence of five years or longer but less than ten years, and 12.4 percent
received a sentence of ten years or longer. In fiscal year 2014, 135 federal offenders were
sentenced to life imprisonment while five offenders were sentenced to death.
Monetary fines were imposed in 8.1 percent of all cases in which an individual was sentenced in
fiscal year 2014, either as the sole punishment or combined with some other sanction. Fines
were most commonly imposed in antitrust cases (89.5%), environmental cases (59.0%), and
gambling/lottery cases (52.2%). When the offender was an organization, courts imposed a fine
in seven out of every ten cases (71.0%).
Courts ordered restitution to be paid to the victim of the crime in 15.3 percent of all cases in
which an individual was the offender. Restitution was most commonly ordered in cases
involving embezzlement (86.5%), robbery (78.3%), larceny (77.1%), fraud (73.3%), and auto
theft (68.6%). Restitution was ordered in 29.6 percent of the cases where the offender was an
organization.
Most offenders who were sentenced to imprisonment also were sentenced to serve a period of
supervised release following the completion of their confinement. In fiscal year 2014, 80.2
percent of offenders sentenced to incarceration also were sentenced to serve a period of
supervised release. The average length of supervised release imposed was 48 months, and
the median length was 36 months. In immigration cases, the rate of imposition of supervised
release was 56.8%, reflecting the fact that many immigration offenders are ordered deported
from the United States once they complete their incarceration sentence.
4

 

Overview of Federal Criminal Cases – Fiscal Year 2014

The Most Common Crimes
Drugs
Drug offenses were the most common federal crime in fiscal year 2014. Most of the 24,011
drug cases involved the manufacture, sale, or transportation of a drug,5 while 2,344 of those
cases involved the simple possession of a drug.
Offenses involving cocaine, in either powder form or base (crack) form, were the most common
drug crimes, accounting for 33.8 percent of the offenders sentenced under the Chapter Two
drug guidelines. In fiscal year 2008, cases involving cocaine were almost evenly split between
the two forms of the drug, however, the portion of crack cocaine cases has decreased steadily
since then, from 24.3 percent of all drug cases in fiscal year 2008 to 11.1 percent in fiscal year
2014.
Methamphetamine offenses were the next most common, representing 28.8 percent of all drug
crimes. The number of methamphetamine cases has risen steadily since 1994, when those
cases accounted for only 6.4 percent of all drug cases.
Of the remaining drug cases, marijuana cases accounted
for 18.1 percent of the cases, heroin for 11.1 percent, and
cases involving other drugs, mostly prescription drugs
such as oxycodone, accounted for 8.2 percent of all drug
offenses.

The number of
methamphetamine cases has
risen steadily since 1994, now
accounting for 28.8 percent of
all drug crimes.

Most drug offenders were United States citizens, although the citizenship of drug offenders
varied widely depending on the type of drug involved in the offense. For example, 97.8 percent
of crack cocaine offenders were United States citizens, while only 56.7 percent of marijuana
offenders were citizens.
The race of drug offenders varied even more widely by the type of drug involved in the offense.
Almost half (47.4%) of all drug offenders convicted in federal court were Hispanic, while Black
offenders comprised 25.3 percent of all drug offenders, and White offenders 24.1 percent of all
drug offenders. Yet, in crack cocaine cases, 82.9 percent of
Weapons were involved in 16.2
those convicted were Black, and in “other” drug cases 58.3
percent of drug offenses.
percent of the offenders were White. Weapons were
involved in 16.2 percent of all drug offenses. As with the
other aspects of these cases discussed above, the rate of
weapon involvement varied depending on the type of drug involved, ranging from 28.8 percent
in crack cocaine cases to 11.2 percent in marijuana cases.
Several factors affect the average prison sentence for drug offenders, including statutory
mandatory minimum punishments, the quantity of the drugs involved in the case, the prior
criminal history of the offender, and whether the offender assisted the government in the

5

United States Sentencing Commission

investigation of his or her crime
and other crimes. For more
than 20 years, crack cocaine
offenders have been the most
severely punished, however
the length of imprisonment
imposed in these cases has
decreased steadily since 2007.
In fiscal year 2014, the
average imprisonment for drug
crimes involving crack cocaine
was 93 months of
imprisonment (with a median
sentence of 72 months). This
compares to a high of 129 for
these offenders in fiscal year
2007. Methamphetamine
offenders are the next most severely punished drug crimes, with an average length of
imprisonment of 88 months (and a median sentence of 70 months). Marijuana offenders have
the lowest average imprisonment at 36 months (with a median sentence of 24 months).
An offender’s role in the offense also can affect the guideline range that judges consider when
imposing punishment. In fiscal year 2014, judges in 19.1 percent of all drug cases determined
that the applicable guideline range should be lowered because of the offender’s minor or
minimal role in the offense. In marijuana cases, this adjustment to the guideline range occurred
29.0 percent of the time. In contrast, courts found such an adjustment warranted in only 5.0
percent of crack cocaine cases. In 7.1 percent of all drug cases, the court determined that the
applicable guideline range should be increased because of the offender’s role as an organizer,
leader, manager, or supervisor.
Mandatory minimum penalties enacted by Congress play a large part in determining the
sentence for drug offenders, either outright or through the impact of these statutes on the
structure of the guidelines. In fiscal year 2014, half of all drug offenders were convicted of an
offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty, however, this proportion was the lowest it has
been since the Commission began reporting data about mandatory minimum penalty application
in 1993. The portion of drug cases carrying a mandatory minimum penalty in fiscal year 2013
was 62.1 percent. This significant reduction was due, in large part, to a change in the policy of
the Department of Justice as to how to charge drug cases.6
In fiscal year 2014, powder cocaine offenders and methamphetamine offenders were convicted
of an offense that provided for the imposition of a mandatory minimum sentence at the highest
rates—65.4 percent in powder cocaine cases and 61.8 percent in methamphetamine cases.7
Mandatory minimum penalties were least common in drug cases involving “other” drugs (mostly
prescription drugs) and marijuana, accounting for 4.3 percent and 33.2 percent, respectively, of
those cases.
Many offenders convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty are able to
obtain relief from that penalty through the “safety valve” exception to such sentences, which
requires courts to sentence an offender without regard to any otherwise applicable mandatory
minimum punishment when certain conditions are met.8 Powder cocaine offenders obtained
relief from a mandatory minimum sentence through the use of the safety valve most often, in
6

 

Overview of Federal Criminal Cases – Fiscal Year 2014

24.7 percent of all powder cocaine cases in which a mandatory minimum penalty applied. In
contrast, only 4.7 percent of crack cocaine offenders obtained this relief.
This difference is due largely to the differing criminal histories of powder cocaine and crack
cocaine offenders. In fiscal year 2014, 59.0 percent of powder cocaine offenders were assigned
to Criminal History Category I (offenders with a criminal history score under the sentencing
guidelines of zero or one) while just 19.2 percent of crack cocaine offenders were assigned to
that category. Only offenders assigned to Criminal History Category I are eligible to receive the
benefit of the safety valve.
Overall, crack cocaine offenders continue to have, on average, a more serious criminal history
than any other category of drug offender.9 Crack cocaine offenders were assigned to the most
serious criminal history category (CHC VI) in 30.2 percent of all crack cocaine cases. In
contrast, powder cocaine offenders were assigned to CHC VI in only 8.1 percent of cases. By
comparison, 16.5 percent of heroin offenders were assigned to CHC VI and 12.7 percent of
methamphetamine offenders were assigned to CHC VI. Offenders convicted of marijuana
offenses generally had the least serious criminal histories, with 59.6 percent assigned to CHC I
and only 4.3 percent to CHC VI.
Immigration
Immigration offenses10 were the second most common federal crime in fiscal year 2014,
representing 29.3 percent of the cases reported to the Commission. The majority of these
offenses involved either the unlawful reentry into the United States or remaining in the United
States without authority (82.4%). Another 11.2 percent
Immigration offenses were the
involved alien smuggling activities. The average sentence
second most common federal
in immigration cases in fiscal year 2014 was 17 months.
crime in fiscal year 2014,
representing 29.3 percent of all
cases reported to the
Commission.

Offenders sentenced under the immigration guidelines differ
from other federal offenders in several ways. For example,
although United States citizens committed the majority of all
federal crimes (58.0%), the overwhelming majority (93.1%)
of immigration offenses were committed by non-citizens.11 Similarly, while Hispanics accounted
for only 31.7 percent of non-immigration offenders, they account for 95.5 percent of immigration
offenders. Also, immigration offenders had significantly less education than other offenders.
Over 80 percent (81.3%) of immigration offenders had less than a high school education,
compared with less than 33 percent of offenders convicted of other crimes. While men
committed most federal crimes not involving an immigration offense (83.2%), men committed an
even higher proportion of immigration crimes (93.1%).
Firearms and Other Weapons
Crimes involving firearms12 accounted for the third largest portion (10.5%) of federal criminal
cases in fiscal year 2014. Of the 7,925 firearms cases reported to the Commission, 24.5
percent involved the possession or use of a firearm in connection with a crime of violence or
drug trafficking crime.13 More than half of firearms (51.3%) involved a convicted felon who
illegally possessed a firearm.14 The average sentence imposed in firearms cases in fiscal year
2014 was 82 months.
Of all cases with complete guideline application information reported to the Commission in fiscal
year 2014, in 8.4 percent of cases the sentence was enhanced (either through application of
7

United States Sentencing Commission

specific offense characteristics under guidelines when available or by statute) because a firearm
or other dangerous weapon (e.g., knife) was involved in the offense. A weapon was involved
twice as often in drug cases (16.2%). Among drug cases, weapons were present most often in
crack cocaine cases (28.8%) and least often in marijuana cases (11.2%).
Fraud
Fraud crimes were 10.0 percent of the total federal
criminal convictions for fiscal year 2014. The losses in
The median loss in fraud cases
these cases ranged from $0 (no loss, in 154 cases) to
was $213,415.
more than $7 billion, with an average loss amount of
$5,472,488 and a median loss amount of $213,415.
Identity theft crimes15 accounted for a relatively small number (907) of these cases in fiscal year
2014. The average sentence imposed in fraud cases in fiscal year 2014 was 27 months.

Organizational Cases
Organizations such as corporations and partnerships can be prosecuted for violating federal
criminal law, and 162 organizations were sentenced for at least one federal criminal offense in
fiscal year 2014. This number is a 5.8 percent decrease from the 172 cases reported in fiscal
year 2013, and the number of organizational defendants continues to be lower than in earlier
years. For example, 200 organizational defendants were sentenced in fiscal year 2003, and
255 organizational defendants were sentenced in fiscal year 1999.
Ninety-two percent of the organizational offenders sentenced in fiscal year 2014 pled guilty to
one or more charges. The most common crimes for which organizational defendants were
convicted were environmental and fraud crimes. Organizational offenders were sentenced to
pay only a fine in 96 cases. In an additional 19 cases the offender was sentenced to pay
restitution to the victim of the crime as well as to pay a fine. In 29 cases, the organization was
sentenced to pay restitution only. No fine or restitution was imposed in 18 cases, although other
sanctions were imposed in some of these cases. Additionally, of the 162 organizational
offenders, 113 received some term of probation, and 45 were ordered to make improvements in
compliance or ethics procedures.

Resentencings and Other Modifications of Sentence
In 2014, the Commission received documentation on 3,585 resentencings and other
modifications of sentence. The most frequently reported reason was a reduction in sentence for
substantial assistance16 to the government in investigating or prosecuting another person after
the offender was sentenced (1,652 or 46.1% of all cases).
The second most common type of resentencing reason or modification of sentence was a
remand by the court of appeals (620 or 17.3% of all cases). The third most common type of
resentencing or modification of sentence was a modification of restitution order (518 or 14.4% of
all cases).

8

 

Overview of Federal Criminal Cases – Fiscal Year 2014

For More Information
More information on these cases can be found
in the Commission’s 2014 Sourcebook of
Federal Sentencing Statistics and Guideline
Application Frequencies for Fiscal Year 2014.
The Sourcebook is available in hard copy
format through the Commission. Both
documents, together with other reports on
sentencing data, are also available in
electronic format at the Commission's website
at www.ussc.gov. Additional statistical
analyses of these cases can be found through
the Commission’s “Interactive Sourcebook of
Federal Sentencing Statistics” at
http://isb.ussc.gov.

9

United States Sentencing Commission

10

 

Overview of Federal Criminal Cases – Fiscal Year 2014

1

The United States Sentencing Commission is an independent agency in the judicial branch of
government. Its principal purposes are (1) to establish sentencing policies and practices for the federal
courts, including guidelines to be consulted regarding the appropriate form and severity of punishment for
offenders convicted of federal crimes; (2) to advise and assist Congress and the executive branch in the
development of effective and efficient crime policy; and (3) to collect, analyze, research, and distribute a
broad array of information on federal crime and sentencing issues.

2

The Commission receives information from the courts on cases in which the defendant has been
convicted of a felony or a Class A misdemeanor.
3

There were 86,201 individual offender cases reported to the Commission in Fiscal Year 2011. U.S.
SENT’G. COMM’N., 2011 SOURCEBOOK OF FEDERAL SENTENCING STATISTICS, TABLE 12 (2012).
4

For more information concerning the use of alternative sentences in the federal system, see COURTNEY
SEMISCH, U.S. SENT’G. COMM’N., ALTERNATIVE SENTENCES IN THE FEDERAL SYSTEM (2015).
5

This number also includes persons convicted of one or more crimes in addition to a drug offense.

6

See Memorandum to United States Attorneys and Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division
from Attorney General Eric Holder, Department Policy on Charging Mandatory Minimum Sentences and
Recidivist Enhancements in Certain Drug Cases, August 12, 2013.
7

Some of these offenders received a sentence that was lower than the applicable statutory mandatory
minimum punishment due to the operation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 3553(e) or (f). Subsection (e) authorizes
courts to impose a sentence that is below a statutory mandatory minimum when the offender has
provided substantial assistance to the government in investigating or prosecuting another offender.
Subsection (f) requires courts to impose a sentence on a non-violent offender with no or limited criminal
background without regard to a statutory mandatory minimum punishment when certain other conditions
are met.

8

See 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e).

9

Under the guidelines, offenders are assigned to one of six criminal history categories (CHCs) based on
their prior criminal history. The criminal history score establishes the CHC for an offender. See U.S.
SENT’G COMM’N, GUIDELINES MANUAL, Ch.4 (2014). The CHC, along with the final offense level,
determines the sentencing range under the guidelines.
10

Immigration offense means, in general, a case in which at least one of the statutes of conviction
involved trafficking in passports or entry documents; failure to surrender naturalization certificates;
fraudulently acquiring passports; alien smuggling; unlawful presence in the United States; or fraudulently
acquiring entry documents.
11

Non-citizens primarily are convicted of immigration crimes. Non-citizens were the offenders in only
14.2 percent of federal crimes other than immigration crimes in fiscal year 2014.
12

Firearms crime includes unlawful possession or transportation of firearms or ammunition; unlawful
trafficking in explosives; possession of guns or explosives in a federal facility, a school, or on an aircraft;
the use of fire or explosives to commit a felony; and the use of firearms or ammunition during a crime.

13

I.e., a case in which 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) was the statute of conviction.

14

I.e., a case in which 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) was the statute of conviction.

11

United States Sentencing Commission

15

Identity theft crimes are those fraud cases in which one or more of the offenses of conviction was
18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(7) or 18 U.S.C. § 1028A. The Commission includes these cases with other fraud
cases when it reports sentencing statistics.

16

12

 

See Fed R. Crim. P. 35(b).

 

 

Prison Phone Justice Campaign
PLN Subscribe Now Ad 450x450
Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual - Side