Many Federal Agencies See Drop in Number of Cases Prosecuted Since Pandemic

Chicago and many other metropolitan areas around the United States are expected to see a sharp decline in the number of federal prosecutions that are tied to various federal law enforcement agencies. For the current fiscal year, Chicago is expected to see a 37% decline in prosecutions of cases from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives(“ATF”), a 45% decline of cases from the Drug Enforcement Administration(“DEA”), and an 8% decline in cases from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (“FBI”), according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse which tracks federal courts. This is despite an overall increase in the annual number of arrests by the Chicago Police Department since the start of the pandemic. “We do know that the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting partial shutdown of the federal government beginning in March 2020 disrupted federal investigations and prosecution activity, significantly impacting enforcement activities by the Drug Enforcement Administration,” the tracking program said in May in a report focusing on the DEA. This follows a larger trajectory which found that there were around 300 new federal prosecutions per year in Chicago in the mid-2000s brought through DEA investigations, compared to around 100 new cases in the 2023 fiscal year. What effect the decline in prosecution has on larger criminal trends remains to be seen.

Decline in Number of Corporate Prosecutions by Federal Government

Despite recent attempts by the Department of Justice to reign in corporate fraud through new programs which we have recently covered, the number of cases brought by the Department of Justice against corporations has generally declined since 2000 across the United States. In 2000, the Justice Department prosecuted 304 corporations for various crimes, compared to just 110 criminal cases in 2022. “The Biden Justice Department’s light-touch approach to enforcement encourages corporate scofflaws to push the limits of what’s legally allowed to maximize their profits – risking our health and safety, our environment, our finances, and our communities,” said Rick Claypool, author of the report noting the steady decline in prosecutions. However, it is possible that the numbers could rise in the near future with new programs announced that incentivizes whistleblowing and will theoretically make it easier for people to come forward, perhaps renewing efforts. “I have […] seen the Justice Department’s interest in prosecuting corporate crime wax and wane over time. Today, it is waxing again” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a speech in 2022. It remains to be seen if the numbers bear that out, but court observers and corporations will continually pay close attention to the types of criminal cases brought by the federal government today in the future.