While the DOJ frequently cites high numbers such as the 6,400 cases sent to prosecutors so far, to bolster their new "tough on terrorism" stance, the frightening reality is that the numbers of individuals who are eventually found not guilty or who are released due to lack of evidence is extremely high. According to the study, the median sentence for someone convicted of crimes related to international terrorism was just 14 days. In this study, over 86% of those recommended for prosecution, have not been found guilty and over 98% of them have not received a sentence longer than one year. In addition, the majority of the cases resulting in longer senteces were classified as "domestic terrorism" and included a case of five KKK members involved in harassment and destruction of property. The leader of that group was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Also, a case in Georgia involved a man sentenced to 6 1/2 years for detonating a pipe bomb in his girlfriend's empty car.
These sentencing statistics sit in sharp contrast to the numbers cited by the Justice Department for other crimes prosecuted by federal agents, which have a median sentence of 24 months (cited in TRAC's study- linked above). The report points out, "because of various sentencing guidelines, federal judges today have relatively little discretion in the sentences they impose . . . as a result of this reality, the sentences in this and all other kinds of criminal cases are largely determined by the investigators who collect the evidence and the prosecutors who decide the actual charges that will be brought against each individual." Clearly, the "terrorism" charge is often used as a descriptor to lay on other minor charges, instead of being a real indicator of terrorism activity, however; new terrorism laws allow the prosecutors and law enforcement more leeway in collecting evidence and bringing charges if the case is deemed to have its root in "terrorism" activities.
If these numbers are accurate, federal agents have attempted to prosecute seven individuals on terror related charges for every one that has been found guilty so far. This also means that they have attempted to prosecute fifty two people for every serious criminal convicted in a "terror-related" case, even if many of these charges are not related to terror activity that these laws were intended to curb.
Report does note that the numbers of convictions will grow somewhat, since some of the 6,400 cases cited are still pending legal action. However, even under the assumption that the number of convictions will rise to double what this study indicated (significantly more than half have already been processed), it is clear that the number of presumably innocent Americans recommended for prosecution by federal agents is still alarmingly high. Despite this, law enforcement continues to push for more control and the ability to cast even broader nets in their hunt for terrorist threats.
Although good statistics on other types of crimes seem to be hard to find, some are available on the Internet. For example, Alaska published a summary of serious crimes several years ago. This and other evidence suggests that the percentage of cases that go to trial in other crimes such as assault is closer to 80% and the rate of those convicted after being recommended for prosecution is closer to 50%. The rate of acquittal or dismissal in assault cases may be less than 2% and definitely less than 5% according to Alaska statistics as well as others on the Internet. This is in stark contrast to these terrorism cases where only one third are ever brought to trial and the dismissal or acquittal rate is substantially higher (around 28% according to these statistics).
With these numbers coming to light, it is apparent that expanded law enforcement powers applying to "suspected" terrorists are frequently intruding into the lives of innocent people. If anyone has ever had to defend themselves in court, whether rightfully or wrongfully accused, it can be very expensive, both economically and emotionally. Even if they are found innocent or the case is dismissed, the privacy of innocent Americans has already been violated by expanded law enforcement powers and overzealous law enforcement agencies.
Some of the questions posed by the TRAC study are:
- Are the right people being targeted? Or have the FBI and other agencies adapted a general round up policy?
- Does the current approach of prosecuting a large number of individuals for crimes which frequently result in little or no prison -- apparent in the data -- reduce the chance of terrorism?