DEA Convictions On The Decline

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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The number of new convictions for cases referred to federal prosecutors by the Drug Enforcement Administration continued to decline during the early months of this fiscal year, a new analysis of Justice Department data reveals.

According to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), during the first two months of FY 2017 — which began in October — the Justice Department reported 1,493 new convictions for cases referred by the DEA.

Based on a TRAC case-by-case analysis of data, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, the number of DEA convictions were down 6.2 percent compared to “the comparable period” in FY 2016. The drop continues a decade-long decline in DEA convictions.

During the entirety of FY 2016, DEA referrals resulted in 9,553 convictions — down 27.5 percent compared to five years ago (when there were 13,170 DEA convictions) and down 35.7 percent compared to 2006 (when there were 14,855 DEA convictions), according to TRAC.

To be sure, FY 2016’s DEA conviction level was higher than it was in 1996, when DEA referrals to federal prosecutors resulted in 9,109 convictions.

“Convictions are down largely because of a decline in the number of cases DEA has been referring to federal prosecutors and not from any significant change in conviction rates,” TRAC’s analysis explains. “The percent of individuals prosecuted who have been convicted has held fairly steady at around 87 percent over this same period.”

The most frequent DEA lead charge conviction in FY 2016 was the possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, which in FY 2016 amounted to 4,415 convictions. Possession with intent to distribute has remained the top ranking change for the past twenty years, according to TRAC.

The second most frequent DEA lead charge with 3,074 convictions was “attempt and conspiracy” followed by “Firearms; Unlawful acts” with 121 convictions.

“[A]mong the top ten lead charges from DEA investigations, the one showing the sharpest decline in convictions compared to one year ago-down -19 percent-was ‘Drug Abuse Prevention & Control-Prohibited Acts C’ (Title 21 U.S.C Section 843 ). This was the same statute that had the largest decrease—44%—when compared with five years ago,” TRAC’s analysis reads.

Overall last fiscal year, TRAC notes, there were some 30 DEA convictions per one million people in the U.S. The judicial district with the most DEA convictions per one million people was in New Mexico wth 246 convictions per capita.

“Four other districts also recorded DEA convictions that were at least three times the national average. These districts, ranking second through fifth in the country on the relative number of their convictions in cases referred by DEA, were: the Western District of Texas (San Antonio) which ranked second, Vermont which ranked third, the Eastern District of Arkansas (Little Rock) in fourth place, and the Eastern District of Tennessee (Knoxville) which ranked fifth,” TRAC reports.

Caroline May