Federal cases hit record number
Local rate bucks national trend; defense lawyer says prosecutors are
pursuing more crimes of less-serious nature
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
By BRENDAN KIRBY
Federal authorities in Mobile prosecuted a record
number of cases last
year, continuing a five-year trend that has seen dramatically higher
numbers even as they have declined nationally.
According to the U.S. District Court clerk's office in Mobile, federal
prosecutors brought 346 criminal cases in the fiscal year that ended in
That is up 24 percent from the previous year and 47
percent from fiscal
year 2003. Over the same period, federal prosecutions declined 3.1 percent
nationally, according recently released figures from the Administrative
Office of U.S. Courts.
Greg Bordenkircher, the first assistant U.S.
attorney in Mobile,
attributed the spike to a variety of factors, including a close working
relationship with state and local authorities that he said does not exist
in many other areas.
"In a lot of districts, if it doesn't come from the
FBI with a bow on it,
it's not considered," he said.
Defense lawyers, however, speculated that the
increase has come from a
willingness by prosecutors to relax the criteria they use to determine
whether to bring federal charges.
"A lot of them (the charges) are small," said Carlos
Williams, the federal
defender who is in charge of representing low-income defendants in 13
southwest Alabama counties. "They're not like the ones where you do sting
Williams said he also has noticed that prosecutors
are increasingly going
after defendants even after they have been prosecuted in state court for
the same offense.
In addition, Williams said, the U.S. Attorney's Office has taken robbery
cases in recent years involving fast-food chains and other national
outlets with operations that cross state lines.
"They've certainly been more aggressive in prosecuting any number of
offenses," he said. "You didn't used to get Burger King robberies before."
Bordenkircher, who also serves as the criminal division chief for the U.S.
Attorney's Office, said it is "just not true" that federal prosecutors are
routinely prosecuting robberies, except for those involving banks and
He recalled one Burger King robbery, which, he said,
his office prosecuted
because Selma authorities asked for help shutting down a gang in that
As for prosecuting defendants who have been tried on
charges, Bordenkircher said the U.S. Supreme Court on multiple occasions
has upheld the practice since the states and the federal government are
Bordenkircher said defense attorneys have tried to
avoid federal charges
and stiffer penalties for their clients by rushing guilty pleas through
Often those defendants walk away with probation for
Bordenkircher said. He said federal prosecutors will not allow a
"sweetheart deal" to be the final word.
"Felons with multiple convictions with assault
rifles should not be
getting probation," he said.
Still, defense lawyer Dom Soto said, federal
prosecutors appear much more
willing to make drug cases that in a bygone era would have been considered
He recalled U.S. District Judge Charles Butler Jr.
seven or eight years
ago taking offense at the government's decision to file federal drug
charges against a man caught with several rocks of crack cocaine.
"I think over time what happened is no one's offended that these things
are in federal court anymore," Soto said. "They've prosecuted drug cases
they never would have taken 10 years ago."
Bordenkircher said the minimum threshold
requirements for drug and fraud
cases have not changed since 2000, except for frauds against the Federal
Emergency Management Agency. Prosecutors have adopted a zero-tolerance
posture on those.
Bordenkircher acknowledged that this U.S. Attorney's
smaller cases than larger districts. A $150,000 bank fraud case is a big
deal in Daphne but would remain under the jurisdiction of local
authorities in Los Angeles, he said.
Federal prosecutors have to be responsive to the
particular needs of the
communities they serve, he said. Sometimes that means spending resources
prosecuting a few street-level crack dealers who have a large collective
effect in one neighborhood, even if none individually has sold a great
"That has a significant impact on crime," he said.
"Politics is local.
Crime is local."
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