Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) – Online Database of District Court Sentencing Information

March 12th, 2012

The Times has coverage here.

new analysis of hundreds of thousands of cases in federal courts has found vast disparities in the prison sentences handed down by judges presiding over similar cases, raising questions about the extent to which federal sentences are influenced by the particular judges rather than by the specific circumstances of the cases.

The trove of data subjects individual district court judges to a level of scrutiny unprecedented in the history of the judiciary.

It seems they obtained this information via several FOIA suits (which suggests that the information is not necessarily up to date–the dates are from FY 2007- FY 2011.

The prices are quite high (the smallest license starting at $695).

I expect similar objections to Harlan (I have intentionally decided not to crunch criminal information; too difficulty).

For years the federal judiciary, through policy set by the Judicial Conference of the U.S. and enforced by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, has blocked dissemination of information on decisions by individual judges. In fact, though the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts provides such data annually to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, it insists on a memorandum of understanding that prohibits further distribution.

Critics have been quick to complain that the TRAC report falls short in various ways, such as wrongly assuming that large numbers—it looks only at judges who have rendered 40 or more sentences in a given area such as drugs or white-collar crime over a five-year period—smooth out inevitable differences in various cases.

“The variety of factors relevant to sentencing is as broad and varied as human existence,” says James Felman, a criminal defense lawyer and name partner at Kynes, Markman & Felman in Tampa, Fla., and the ABA’s liaison to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

But the critics tend to agree that getting the information out into sunlight is a good thing.

Oh, but the value for lawyers!

“Criminal defense lawyers often go by word-of-mouth in the courthouse to know what to expect from particular judges,” Burnham says. “But a judge might be so personable as to be seen as easygoing, and the gossip gets it wrong. The data doesn’t.”