U.S. Attorneys Do Not Prosecute Many Suspected Violators of Federal Laws

GGD-77-86: Published: Feb 27, 1978. Publicly Released: Feb 27, 1978.

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United States Attorneys are the chief law enforcement representatives of the Attorney General in 94 federal judicial districts throughout the country. U.S. Attorneys handle a wide variety of litigation for the government, ranging from prosecution of federal criminal violations to representing the United States in environmental suits and other litigation. In addition, U.S. attorneys develop and investigate cases before grand juries and provide advice and assistance to enforcement and regulatory agencies. Because of increased crime and limited staff resources, far more criminal complaints are received than can be prosecuted, and the U.S. attorneys must decide which cases to prosecute and which to decline.

From 1970 to 1976, U.S. attorneys declined to prosecute about 62 percent of the 1.2 million criminal complaints referred to them. Many of these complaints could have been prosecuted if the U.S. attorneys had not believed that the circumstances of the cases did not warrant the cost of prosecution and/or staff was not available. In four judicial districts, at least 22 percent of the declined complaints during 1975 and 1976 were considered prosecutable. For many suspects, a judicial determination of guilt or innocence is never made; and, if guilty, suitable punishment is not imposed. Suspected violations of certain criminal statutes are generally not being prosecuted, and suspected violations of other criminal statutes are not being prosecuted uniformly by U.S. attorneys.

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