San Francisco Federal Felony Filings Continue To Drop

For May 2007, Undocumented Alien and Undescribed "Other" Cases Drove New Federal Filings In The ND CA, September 2007 Report Says.


–Posted September 17, 2007 at Palo Alto.

a. Federal Court: The Big Picture In San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland.

The latest numbers from Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University (released September 10 for the period ending May 31, 2007) show:

  • From October 1, 2006 through the end of May 2007, federal courthouses in three of California's largest cities had just 509 new criminal cases filed, down 13.6% from filings at the two-thirds mark last fiscal year;
  • Criminal filings are down 20.9% from five years ago ––however, exclude misdemeanor filings before U.S. Magistrate Judges, and the numbers are down 33.8% from five years ago, and
  • The U.S. Attorney's Office remains on track for fewer than 800 filings in 2007, a 20–year historic low, and a stark contrast to almost 1500 cases filed in FY 2000–2001.

b. Federal Criminal Cases in San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland by Program Area.

For May 2007, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed 66 new cases, down approximately 8.3% from April's 72 new cases, as follows:



Immigration (undocumented alien/other)


Withheld by U.S./FOIA Challenge


Identity Theft


Criminal Tax Fraud


Federal firearms and ammunition-Operation Triggerlock


Fugitive crimes (bail jump/harboring)


Drugs – Simple Possession


Fraud – Financial Institution


Crimes Against Gov’t. Property


Other Regulatory Offenses


Child Pornography




Other Violent Crime 3%

Reported as "Other"


Not Reported In Any Classification 13%


The federal criminal focus in Northern California's U.S. Attorney's Office remains mostly on cases easier to charge and on defendants believed more likely to plead guilty (or be convicted), as evidenced by immigration cases filling almost a third of the docket.

San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland federal authorities also seem willing to pursue cases in catch–all categories that don't fit in traditional federal priority programs:

  1. "Other" cases – 12.1%
  2. "Other Regulatory Offenses" – 3%; and
  3. "Other Violent Crime" – 3%.

A final observation is that in May 2007, for 9.1% of the criminal filings in the Northern District of California, DoJ kept secret of what kinds of criminal cases were charged. That is, rather than just filing under seal those seven matters pending a court appearance (thereby keeping defendant's names secret), DoJ has taken the additional step of refusing even to reveal what kind of case it is keeping under wraps. TRAC has filed an FOIA action over that view of the public's right to know.

Overall, a staggering part of the federal docket went undescribed. Perhaps with a new Attorney General, "other" and "withheld" will join "I don't know" and "I don't recall" in the dustbin of forgettable phrases.

c. Comment From Palo Alto Attorney Lee Altschuler.

For people under federal criminal investigation in San Francisco, San Jose or Oakland, a charitable and generous "glass half-full" explanation of the May 2007 TRAC numbers is that the screening of matters for prosecution continued to remain highly selective.

TRAC numbers for May 2007 also reveal a drop in the number of people sentenced to federal prison for one year or longer. Bureau of Prisons commitments fell 13.2% from one year ago, and 20.8% from five years ago. That's not much of a consolation for the 32 people (and their families) committed in May to BoP custody for a year or longer. (Experienced lawyers know when a federal judge intends to give a one year sentence to ask the judge to impose one additional day of custody. Why? BoP grants no good time credit for a sentence up to one year, but does grant good time credit for sentences of 366 days, or longer. Therefore a sentence of a year and a day means less time in custody than a sentence of one year.)

The additional import of the May 2007 numbers is that an effective federal criminal defense lawyer, experienced in the ways cases are evaluated for prosecution, can make a difference at the front end by demonstrating a case is not worthy of prosecution.

It can also make a difference at the back end (if there is a conviction), particularly when your attorney is experienced under both the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and under the "old" § 3553(a) factors.

If the best result from being investigated is that no charges (or the least serious charges) are filed, then an important part of selecting federal criminal defense counsel is finding an attorney able to spot weaknesses in an investigation, and demonstrate to prosecutors the investigation should be quietly closed.