Criminal Defense Statistics

Criminal defense is an area of the law that pertains to the defense of people or companies accused of a crime. Criminal defense lawyers apply case law, state and federal law, and the rules of criminal procedure to protect the rights of their clients. Read on to learn about statistics on criminal cases in the United States, criminal defense attorneys, and more.

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Scope of Criminal Cases in the U.S.

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s overview of federal criminal cases in 2021, there were a total of 57,377 federal criminal cases in which the offender was sentenced.

Did you know?

A majority of federal criminal cases — 57,287 specifically — involved an individual and only 90 involved an organization.

In 2021, there was a decrease of 11.3% or 7,278 cases from the previous year and the lowest number of cases since 1999.

Despite the overall decrease in criminal cases, there were sizable increases in individual types of criminal cases.

These case types include:

  • Drug trafficking
  • Child pornography
  • Firearms
  • Money laundering
  • Sex abuse (sexual assault)

Immigration, theft, fraud, drugs, or embezzlement cases accounted for 83.1% of all cases.

Criminal Case Statistics

In a criminal case, the state files a criminal lawsuit against a person or company accused of a crime. Here are some criminal defense statistics for cases in the U.S.

Guilty Pleas

According to a 2019 Pew Research study, 90% of criminal defendants pleaded guilty, and 2% had their cases dismissed.

Trials

The same Pew Research study revealed that only 2% of criminal defendants went to trial.

U.S. Crime Conviction Rate

The Pew Research study found that fewer than 1% of federal defendants went to trial and won their cases. This means that the U.S. conviction rate for federal crimes is over 99%.

Criminal Defense Attorney Statistics

Criminal defense attorneys are lawyers who represent people and businesses accused of a crime (criminal defendants). Like other lawyers, they have a bachelor’s degree, a Juris Doctor (JD) degree from law school, and have passed the bar exam in the state they practice.

According to job recruiter Zippia, there are more than 252,159 criminal defense lawyers in the U.S. as of 2023.

Many but not all lawyers are members of the American Bar Association (ABA), a voluntary legal association that connects lawyers to experts in their practice areas across jurisdictions.

There are two types of criminal defense attorneys:

  1. Private defense attorneys work for themselves or a law firm. Private defense attorneys may charge an hourly rate or work on a contingency basis.
  2. Public defenders are court-appointed lawyers who provide legal representation for people who can’t afford legal fees. The government pays for the legal services they provide with taxpayers’ money.

Criminal Defense Statistics by Type of Offense

Criminal case statistics vary depending on the type of crime. Here’s a breakdown of criminal case statistics by type.

Drug Offenses

Drug offenses accounted for 31.3% of all federal crimes and outnumbered immigration crimes as the most common federal crime in 2021.

Here are the rankings of the primary drug type in federal drug cases:

  • Methamphetamine: 48%
  • Powder cocaine: 16.6%
  • Heroin: 10.2%
  • Fentanyl: 9.5%
  • Crack cocaine: 6.2%
  • Marijuana: 5.7%
  • Other: 3.8%

Immigration Offenses

Immigration offenses accounted for 29.6% of all cases and were the second-most common federal crime in 2021.

Firearms Offenses

In 2021, firearms crimes were the third-most common federal offense. They accounted for 14.2% of all federal cases.

Economic Offenses

Economic offenses such as those involving embezzlement, theft, and fraud made up 8% of the total federal caseload in 2021.

Other Offenses

Here are the statistics for other common crime types in 2021:

  • Robbery cases make up 2.3% of all federal cases.
  • Child pornography cases make up 2.1% of all federal cases.
  • Money laundering cases make up 1.8% of all federal cases.

Criminal Law Statistics by State

Crime statistics vary from state to state.

According to data from 2019, violent criminal case rates in several states are as follows:

  • District of Columbia: 1,049 per 100,000 inhabitants
  • California: 441.2 per 100,000 inhabitants
  • Illinois: 406.9 per 100,000 inhabitants
  • Colorado: 381 per 100,000 inhabitants
  • Florida: 378.4 per 100,000 inhabitants
  • Maine: 115.2 per 100,000 inhabitants

Violent vs. Non-Violent Crime Statistics

Non-violent or property crime is much more common than violent crime in the U.S. In 2019, the rate was 2,110 property crimes per 100,000 people compared to 379 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

Criminal Defense Statistics by Demographic

Criminal defense statistics vary by race and ethnicity, sex, age, and other demographic factors. Here’s a breakdown of criminal offense statistics by demographic.

Race and Ethnicity

According to 2019 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) statistics:

  • 69% of criminal offenders were white
  • 26.6% of criminal offenders were Black or African American
  • 19.1% of criminal offenders were Hispanic or Latino
  • 2.4% of criminal offenders were American Indian or Alaska Native
  • 1.3% of criminal offenders were Asian
  • 0.3% of criminal offenders were Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander

Sex

Men commit more crimes than women and are more likely to land in prison.

  • 85% of all arrests involve men
  • 74% of those prosecuted are men
  • 95% of the prison population is men

Age

According to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the estimated number of arrests by age group in 2020 were as follows.

  • Age 0 to 17: 424,300 arrests
  • Age 18 to 20: 592, 260 arrests
  • Age 21 to 24: 894,730 arrests
  • Age 25 and older: 5,721,190 arrests

Marital Status

Family violence accounted for 11% of all unreported and reported violence between 1998 and 2002, and 49% of these crimes were committed against spouses.

There is also evidence that marriage is associated with a reduced rate of criminal recidivism (the tendency of a criminal to re-offend).

According to a Swedish study, marriage after a first crime significantly reduced recidivism risk in both males and females, although the effect is stronger in females.

Education Level

According to an American Economic Review article, the probability of imprisonment was higher for people with less education.

Research shows 0.83% of white men who were high school dropouts were incarcerated versus 0.34% of white male high school graduates, 0.24% of white men with some college education, and 0.07% of white men with at least a college education.

Similarly, 3.64% of Black high school dropouts were incarcerated versus 2.18% of Black male high school graduates, 1.97% of Black men with some college education, and 0.66% of Black men with at least a college education.

Income Level

A September 2021 research paper published in The Park Place Economist revealed that there is a significant correlation between violent crime rates and poverty.

Factors That Affect Crime Rates

Many research studies have been done on the causes and origins of crime.

5 factors known to affect the type and volume of crime are:

  1. Economic conditions, including job availability and poverty level: The better the employment statistics of a given area, the lower the criminal prosecution rate.
  2. Inhabitants’ attitudes toward crime: Places with inhabitants who are indifferent to crime are more likely to have high crime rates.
  3. Family conditions: Areas with high rates of divorce and low rates of family cohesiveness are more likely to experience high crime rates.
  4. Population density and urbanization: Urban locations with higher population densities tend to have higher crime rates.
  5. Population composition: Areas with higher youth concentrations tend to have higher crime rates.

Find a Criminal Defense Law Firm to Help With Your Case

If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges, an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help defend you and protect your rights.

The right lawyer can explain the nuances of criminal law, guide you through the criminal defense system and court system, negotiate plea bargains, and take your case to trial if needed.

Criminal Justice Statistics FAQs

What are statistics in criminal justice?

Statistics in criminal justice are facts and figures related to an area of the law called criminal defense. These statistics shine a spotlight on the criminal justice system and reveal information related to crime rates, conviction rates, and more.

What is the hardest crime to defend?

There is no single crime that is the most challenging for a defense attorney to defend.

However, these 3 crimes tend to be difficult to defend:

  • Crimes against minors
  • Homicide
  • White collar crimes such as embezzlement

What is the most common criminal defense?

Defense attorneys use a variety of defenses when fighting for their clients.

Some common criminal defenses include:

  • Consent
  • Innocence
  • Self-defense or defense of others

How many criminal defense lawyers are in the U.S.?

There are currently more than 250,000 criminal defense lawyers in the U.S., according to Zippia.

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ReferencesView References
  1. FBI: UCR (2019). “Crime in the U.S. 2019: Table 43: Arrests by Race and Ethnicity, 2019.” Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2019/crime-in-the-u.s.-2019/tables/table-43.
  2. FBI: UCR (2012). “Crime in the U.S. 2012: Table 42: Arrests by Sex, 2012.” Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2012/crime-in-the-u.s.-2012/tables/42tabledatadecoverviewpdf/table_42_arrests_by_sex_2012.xls.
  3. FBI: UCR (2019).”Crime in the U.S. 2019: Table 5: Crime in the United States by State, 2019.” Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2019/crime-in-the-u.s.-2019/tables/table-5.
  4. FBI: UCR (2011). “Hate Crime Statistics 2011.” Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime/2011/resources/variables-affecting-crime.
  5. National Library of Medicine: PubMed Central (2017 December). Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences. “The role of marriage in criminal recidivism: a longitudinal and co-relative analysis.” Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6998977/.
  6. Office of Justice Programs: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) (2020). “Statistical Briefing Book.” Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/crime/ucr.asp?table_in=1.
  7. Pew Research Center (2019 June). “Only 2% of federal criminal defendants go to trial, and most who do are found guilty.” Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2019/06/11/only-2-of-federal-criminal-defendants-go-to-trial-and-most-who-do-are-found-guilty/.
  8. Pew Research Center (2020 November). “What the data says (and doesn’t say) about crime in the United States.” Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2020/11/20/facts-about-crime-in-the-u-s/#:~:text=In%202019%2C%20the%20FBI%20reported,violent%20crimes%20per%20100%2C000%20people.
  9. Quednau, Joseph. The Park Place Economist (2021 September). “How are violent crime rates in U.S. cities affected by poverty?” Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1530&context=parkplace.
  10. United States Sentencing Commission (2021). “Overview of Federal Criminal Cases, Fiscal Year 2021.” Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://www.ussc.gov/research/data-reports/overview-federal-criminal-cases-fiscal-year-2021.
  11. United States Sentencing Commission (2021). “Overview of Federal Criminal Cases, Fiscal Year 2021.” Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/research-and-publications/research-publications/2022/FY21_Overview_Federal_Criminal_Cases.pdf.
  12. Zippia. “Defense Attorney Demographics and Statistics in the US.” Retrieved June 5, 2023, from https://www.zippia.com/defense-attorney-jobs/demographics/.

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