Report: Southwest Border Districts Account for 80 Percent of All Criminal Cases in Magistrate Courts

April 23, 2012 - 6:22 PM

Arizona border fence

An Arizona stretch of the fence along the southwest border. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Eighty percent of cases filed against criminal defendants in United States Magistrate Courts in fiscal year 2011 occurred in parts of the country along the U.S. border with Mexico, according to a recent Justice Department report.

Of the total 71,387 cases filed in that court system between Oct. 1, 2010 and Sept. 30, 2011, 57,310 were along the southern border, the United States Attorneys’ Annual Statistical Report for Fiscal Year 2011 states.

Arizona accounted for the highest number of criminal defendants (23,125), followed by Southern Texas (19,453), Western Texas (10,546), New Mexico (2,913) and Southern California (1,273).  Those four regions are among the top five in the country for the number of cases filed in the Magistrate Courts. (The other is Eastern Virginia, with 3,034 cases.)

Created by Congress in 1968, Magistrate Courts handle a “considerable criminal caseload,” according to the report.  Assigned by district courts, magistrate judges preside over misdemeanor trials, conduct preliminary hearings, and enter rulings or recommended dispositions on pretrial motions.

Regions along the southwest border also accounted for the most criminal cases handled by U.S. Attorneys in FY2011.  Of all criminal cases filed in U.S. District Courts, 43.3 percent occurred in the four border states – Western Texas (7,271), Arizona (7,033), Southern Texas (6,797), Southern California (5,689) and New Mexico (3,044).

Only five other locations accounted for more than a thousand criminal cases filed in District Courts – Southern Florida (1,518), Middle Florida (1,363), Central California (1,308), Southern New York (1,183), and Eastern Virginia (1,035).

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Overall, U.S. Attorneys’ offices dealt with 163,908 criminal matters during FY2011.

Immigration accounted for 41.8 percent of all criminal cases – the highest number by program category. Next came drug-related offenses, at 22.1 percent, followed by violent crime, 17.2 percent. Offenses relating to terrorism and national security critical infrastructure accounted for just 0.3 percent of the criminal cases filed.

Although the most recent report does not mention illegal immigration, the report for FY2010 does.

“Illegal immigration provides the initial foothold with which criminal elements, including organized crime syndicates, use to engage in a myriad of illicit activities ranging from immigration document fraud and migrant smuggling to human trafficking,” the earlier report states.

“Violence along the border of the United States and Mexico has increased dramatically during recent years,” it adds. “The violence associated with Mexican drug trafficking organizations pose[s] a serious problem for law enforcement.”