Tracking federal cases related to Summer protests, riots, & uprisings

Latest update: July 8, 2020

Original post: July 1, 2020

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Over the last several weeks tPP has fielded many requests to help provide a count of felony cases related to the protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 by Minneapolis police. The protests, riots, and sporadic uprisings that resulted from the killing have resulted in over 10,000 arrests nationwide. We have spoken with journalists, academic researchers, attorneys, community and prisoner support organizations, and many others.

tPP is focused on tracking felony cases of socio-political crime and violence, so many of these arrests likely fall within our project’s inclusion criteria. tPP tracks all types of ideological motives to study political violence. In this case, while the majority of cases are of demonstrators, some represent violence directed at demonstrators, or seemingly unrelated crimes described by State authorities (e.g., the DOJ, ATF) as ‘protest-related.’ Some of these cases will likely be excluded from our data set, but while they develop, we will continue to follow them. For example, we are including several federal cases where defendants currently only mace misdemeanor charges. Although this will disqualify them for later inclusion in the tPP dataset, we are including them to currently to assist those trying to track federal prosecutions.

Some have asked, ‘Why does the data set contain far-right crimes mixed in with those from demonstrators?’ Simply put, we seek to track all manners of political violence, regardless of ideology. Cases are eventually measured and coded on the basis of a defendants’ motive, ideology, etc., but in establishing these cases for preliminary tracking, we are simply asserting that the crimes have:

    • a.) a socio-political motive, and/or,
    • b.) the federal government has labeled the crime ‘protest-related,’ ‘related to the civil disturbance,’ ‘riot cases, (see below)’ or through the use of other language which links the crime to the protests.

Many of these cases were sourced from a series of releases provided by the DOJ and made available to tPP. Cases which qualify for inclusion will be evaluated by coding teams and completed for 50 variables, but in the mean time, we are sharing a partial data table of the federal arrests we are tracking.

You can download the spreadsheet of 139 federal cases here

(listing updated 7/8/20 @ 9:29pm EST)

We will continue to update this list as information becomes available. This data is incomplete but provided for others to build upon.

This information is free to use but please credit the Prosecution Project | tPP Twitter. If you have further questions about the data, or would like more information on the cases, their inclusion criteria, etc., get in touch.

The Changing Nature of Assault & Hate Crimes

The Changing Nature of Assault & Hate Crimes

Nitya Sunil

Last Spring semester, while working on coding cases, I came across a case with characteristics that would determine prosecution for many future cases. The State of Texas v. John Rayne Rivello determines whether a tweet, or any message-sending medium utilized on the Internet, can be considered as a deadly weapon if it inflicts harm on the recipient. Also, this case has a hate crime component because Eichenwald was targeted for his religious beliefs.

On December 15th, 2016 journalist Kurt Eichenwald suffered a seizure after viewing a tweet he received that contained an animation with strobe-like effects that were specifically meant to induce a seizure. Eichenwald has publicly spoken about his epilepsy and disdain for President Trump. John Rayne Rivello, the sender of the tweet and a supporter of President Trump, wrote to Eichenwald “You deserve a seizure for your post,” and attached a flashing image of Pepe, a known symbol among white supremacists. When Rivello was arrested, he was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon along with a bias or prejudice enhancement in the state of Texas. The case was added into the Prosecution Project database because Rivello had an obvious socio-political aim when injuring Eichenwald and is facing a felony charge.

According to the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program, aggravated assault is defined as an “unlawful attack by one person upon another for the purpose of inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury. The UCR Program further specifies that this type of assault is usually accompanied by the use of a weapon.” However, this would be one of the first cases, if not first, that the deadly weapon was a tweet. The results of this case will influence the prosecution of future cases in which hate crime messages with the intent to cause physical harm are sent over the internet.

While this is the first case to be prosecuted with a tweet as a weapon, attacks against those with epilepsy on social media have been common for years. The Epilepsy Foundation wrote a press release in December 2019 stating that the foundation had filed criminal complaints because of a series of attacks on their Twitter field designed to trigger seizures during National Epilepsy Awareness Month. According to the United States Department of Justice, protections for disability were added to the federal hate crimes states in 1988 and epilepsy is considered a disability. In 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 18 U.S.C. § 249 expanded the original statute.

I wondered why this case solely prosecuted the bias and prejudice enhancement on the basis of Eichenwald’s religious affiliation rather than his disability as well. According to Garlick (2018) in 2015, only 1.3% of all hate crimes were reported against disabled individuals while 21.3% were motivated by religious bias. When analyzing the cases due to religious bias, 53% of cases were directed against Jewish individuals or institutions. The Southern Poverty Law Center interviewed Jack Levin, a professor at Northeastern University specializing in violence and conflict, who stated disability hate crimes are “woefully under-reported, under-investigated, and under-prosecuted,” indicating a growing need for law enforcement to take disability hate crimes more seriously.

Concerning this case, I believe there are two different reasons why the tweet was not also considered a disability hate crime. Either those in charge of prosecution in the state of Texas determined it would be too difficult to successfully convict Rivello on these charges or determined that the seizure was a means to an end and he was not attacked due to his disability. Either way, it would be beneficial to gain clarity on why inducing a seizure, in an individual the defendant knew had epilepsy, was not considered a disability hate crime in the state of Texas. While this aspect of the prosecution is a disappointment, the court believes that Rivello will plead guilty meaning that this case would allow for future attacks through messages on social media to be considered aggravated assault. This conviction would help all American citizens and hopefully deter trolls on social media from sending physically harmful messages.

References

“Aggravated Assault.” FBI. FBI, August 18, 2016. https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2015/crime-in-the-u.s.-2015/offenses-known-to-law-enforcement/aggravated-assault.

“Epilepsy Foundation Files Criminal Complaint and Requests Investigation in Response to Attacks on Twitter Feed.” Epilepsy Foundation. Epilepsy Foundation, December 16, 2019. https://www.epilepsy.com/release/2019/12/epilepsy-foundation-files-criminal-complaint-and-requests-investigation-response.

Garlick, Melissa. “Hate Crime Laws.” In Hate Crimes: Typology, Motivations, and Victims, edited by Robin Maria Valeri and Kevin Borgeson, 50–85. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2018.

“Hate Crime Laws.” The United States Department of Justice. U.S. Department of Justice, March 7, 2019. https://www.justice.gov/crt/hate-crime-laws.

McKinney, Debra. “The Invisible Hate Crime.” Southern Poverty Law Center. Southern Poverty Law Center, August 5, 2018. https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2018/invisible-hate-crime#ongoing-fight.

The Roaring Twenty-Twenties: White Nationalism Rising and the Coronavirus

The Roaring Twenty-Twenties: White Nationalism Rising and the Coronavirus

Zion Miller

While the Prosecution Project’s objectives primarily relate to how sociopolitical crimes are prosecuted, the Project also studies the trends of how and who commits sociopolitical crime change over time. Examples of past trends was a large right-wing anti-government movement during the 1990s, a massive increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the wake of 9/11, and the rise of Islamic terror attacks on Western civilian populations during the 2010s. As we enter a new decade, I have started to wonder what the defining extremist ideology of this decade will be. After the work I’ve done with tPP over the last semester and my own studies about extremism at Miami University, I believe that the 2020s will be defined by white nationalist violence on a scale that we have yet to see from the ideology.

The white nationalist movement has been steadily rising in popularity and violence ever since 2016. The Southern Poverty Law Center 2019 Year End Report details the numbers of the movement’s rise: There was a 55% increase in the number of white nationalist groups in the United States from 2017 to 2019 (growing from 100 groups to 155) and a 17% increase in hate crimes committed from 2016 to 2017. Time Magazine reports that “since 9/11, white supremacists and other far-right extremists have been responsible for almost three times as many attacks on U.S. soil as Islamic terrorists…” The growth of the movement and the dangers it poses have not gone unnoticed. FBI Director Christopher Wray, in his July 2019 address to Congress, stated that, ”I will say that a majority of the domestic terrorism cases that we’ve investigated [in 2019] are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence…”

The increased activity and violence we’ve seen from these groups is likely to grow over the next decade due to the rapidly increasing popularity of “accelerationism” in white supremacist movements. White nationalists who subscribe to accelerationism believe that a race war is inevitable and that the best way to win that war is by “accelerating” the timeline through acts of mass violence. This will polarize the population along racial lines, and ultimately cause the war to begin sooner than it otherwise would. Societal collapse is also a desired outcome, as they can then rebuild the structures of society in their image. The belief that the war must happen soon in order to achieve victory stems from the “Great Replacement/White Genocide” theory, which argues that the white race is being replaced both in numbers and in positions of power through immigration, declining white birth rates, and multiculturalism. These theories combine to create the white nationalist belief that if they wait for the race war to happen, the white race will be too weak to fight back. Adherents of these beliefs have already begun to act, with the Christchurch shooter, El Paso shooter, and others have all espoused these views in their manifestos. As these beliefs take further root in white nationalist groups, more violence on an even larger scale will inevitably occur.

The global insecurities created by the COVID-19 pandemic are providing new opportunities for white nationalist groups to recruit new members and plan attacks. An American University professor, Cynthia Miller-Idriss, has been studying white nationalist recruitment for some time. In a statement to NPR, Miller-Idriss said: “For extremists, this is an ideal time to exploit youth grievances about their lack of agency, their families’ economic distress, and their intense sense of disorientation, confusion, fear and anxiety,” Accelerationist groups are spreading disinformation about COVID-19 in order to further accelerate societal collapse and reveling in the chaos it causes, with one Telegram (a popular messaging app for white nationalists) commenting: “Oh nooo the white normies. The White man has lost his savings, job, & now he has no food. His bread and circuses have been canceled. What a terrible thing he has nothing left to lose. No more peaceful status quo.” Some white nationalists are even attempting to weaponize the virus by creating spray bottles to aerosolize infected saliva for the purposes of infecting minority populations and governmental actors.

The full ugliness of modern white nationalism’s newest form, accelerationism, has yet to be seen. Over the next decade, I predict that we will see it come into its fullness in very violent ways. The coronavirus pandemic opens the decade, affecting society in dramatic ways that play into the white nationalist’s hands and sets the stage for years of societal uncertainty. The upcoming 2020 presidential election will likely further divide and polarize the nation, once again an environment in which white nationalism will thrive. With this foundation, I believe that white nationalism will grow as the years pass, both in membership and violence. I hope to be proven wrong.

References

“About TPP.” The Prosecution Project, 2020, https://theprosecutionproject.org/about-tpp/.

“The Year in Hate and Extremism 2019.” Southern Poverty Law Center, 18 Mar. 2020, www.splcenter.org/news/2020/03/18/year-hate-and-extremism-2019.

Bergengruen, Vera, and W.J. Hennigan. “‘We Are Being Eaten From Within.’ Why America Is Losing the Battle Against White Nationalist Terrorism.” Time, Time, 8 Aug. 2019, time.com/5647304/white-nationalist-terrorism-united-states/.

Chalfant, Morgan. “FBI’s Wray Says Most Domestic Terrorism Arrests This Year Involve White Supremacy.” TheHill, The Hill, 23 July 2019, thehill.com/homenews/administration/454338-fbis-wray-says-majority-of-domestic-terrorism-arrests-this-year.

“Executive Summary: 2019 Year in Hate.” Southern Poverty Law Center, 18 Mar. 2020, www.splcenter.org/news/2020/03/18/executive-summary-2019-year-hate.

Bridge Initiative Team. “Factsheet: White Genocide Conspiracy Theory.” Bridge Initiative, Georgetown University, 3 Feb. 2020, bridge.georgetown.edu/research/factsheet-white-genocide-conspiracy-theory/.

Allam, Hannah. “’A Perfect Storm’: Extremists Look For Ways To Exploit Coronavirus Pandemic.” NPR, NPR, 16 Apr. 2020, www.npr.org/2020/04/16/835343965/-a-perfect-storm-extremists-look-for-ways-to-exploit-coronavirus-pandemic.

Macfarquhar, Neil. “The Coronavirus Becomes a Battle Cry for U.S. Extremists.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 May 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/05/03/us/coronavirus-extremists.html.

Miller, Cassie. “White Supremacists See Coronavirus as an Opportunity.” Southern Poverty Law Center, 26 Mar. 2020, www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2020/03/26/white-supremacists-see-coronavirus-opportunity.

Wade, Peter. “Just When You Thought Things Couldn’t Get Worse, Neo-Nazis Are Trying to Weaponize Coronavirus.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 23 Mar. 2020, www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/neo-nazis-are-trying-to-weaponize-the-coronavirus-971002/.

The Impact of COVID-19 on the Criminal Justice System and tPP

The Impact of COVID-19 on the Criminal Justice System and tPP

Morgan Demboski

No one can deny that we are in an unprecedented – albeit historic – time for both the U.S. and the world. Every person and entity is trying to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in the best way possible, and everyone is making adjustments to stop the spread of the virus and comply with social distancing guidelines. Due to COVID, a lot of scheduled events have been postponed or canceled; however, there are things that can’t be as easily suspended or canceled – like criminal justice proceedings. Many are concerned that the pandemic has put “the criminal justice system on hold,” evidenced by the early release of many inmates, a decrease in arrests, and postponements of court cases (Corley, 2020). What does this mean for the future of the criminal justice system and tPP?

Since inmates are at a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 due to close proximity and living quarters, states have been rushing to release non-violent detainees. According to Fox News, as of mid-April, approximately 16,622 inmates, primarily those held on non-violent charges and those who were considered to pose little to no threat to society, had been released in the U.S. (Givas, 2020). However, the U.S. is not the only country struggling with this issue. Iranian judiciary officials announced that it has decided to temporarily free more than 85,000 prisoners, and the Polish Justice Ministry has decided to release around 12,000 convicts in order to decrease the spread of the virus (Reynolds, 2020; Suliman et al., 2020).

In addition, several U.S. federal and state courts have suspended/postponed criminal jury trials until further notice. Each state is handling its judicial proceedings differently, with officials scrambling to find a way to balance justice with public safety. In New Jersey, defendants who are awaiting trial will remain in jail, but the state is estimated to release about 1000 inmates who have already been sentenced and are serving time in county jails; in addition, police have been told to hold back arrests for less serious and non-violent offenses. On the other hand, the police department in Philadephia announced that it will make arrests for nonviolent crimes, but once the offender is processed, they will be released with a warrant instructing them to come in at a later date (Corley, 2020).

The current issues with the criminal justice system became apparent to me when I was perusing the ‘Pending Cases’ doc and searching for court documents for a group of defendants identified in the tPP dataset as the ‘Olaya’ group. This case involves seven members of an organized criminal group known as the Castro Enterprise who led a string of armed home invasions in more than five states, targeting primarily families of Indian and Asian ancestry. The members of the Castro Enterprise were indicted in April of 2015 and all face various charges and possible sentences. The leader of the enterprise, Chaka LeChar Castro, is the only defendant to be sentenced so far. As you can see exemplified in the docket for Justin Johnson (Figure 1), the other defendants have faced multiple reschedulings for judgments and sentencing, with the court typically listing a specific date for the reset sentencing. However, in the current moment, as you can see in figure 2, sentencing for Justin Johnson is “adjourned … until further order of the court,” which one can only assume is due to COVID-related setbacks.

The main concern of these postponements and setbacks is defendants’ constitutional right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment. If that right is violated, a defendant’s judgment or sentence can be thrown out. Most states have statutory ‘speedy trial’ limits, and the delays resulting from the pandemic have begun to overwhelm state court dockets, successively creating an expanding backlog of cases. Officials are struggling on how to deal with this issue; for example, Kansas state legislators are considering “a bill that would give the chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court emergency powers to extend speedy trial deadlines” (Reynolds, 2020). In addition, many prosecutors are trying to cut their caseloads by offering more plea deals. Though more plea deals mean fewer hearings for the court, people are concerned that this also means increased pressure on defendants to plead guilty instead of going to trial (Reynolds, 2020).

However, the COVID crisis has created an important opportunity for the justice system to improve and change the way it operates. The Federal Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has adapted to the changes by utilizing technology, telephones, and live audio streaming. Though the Court releases recordings of its oral arguments at the end of each week, SCOTUS and the federal judicial system have failed to make the technological and transparency advancements made by other branches and lower federal and state courts. SCOTUS was forced to postpone two months of scheduled oral arguments, appointing half to be dealt with now and half to be pushed to the next term, which begins in October (Wolf, 2020). The last oral argument heard inside the courtroom was on March 4th, but on May 4th, SCOTUS began conducting oral arguments over the phone. For the first time in history, the public is able to listen to SCOTUS arguments through audio live streaming, in turn creating greater transparency in the justice system (Wolf, 2020).

It will be interesting to see how these delays and changes impact tPP and our coding; however, I do have some hypotheses on how the project will be affected. Firstly, I believe we will see our ‘Pending Cases’ doc expand exponentially due to many defendants’ hearings being ‘suspended until further notice of the court.’ I predict that we will see a decrease in the number of arrests for nonviolent sociopolitical offenses, such as vandalism and providing material support, due to courts aiming to decrease the number of cases on their dockets and many states encouraging their law enforcement to not arrest for nonviolent offenses. I expect some of the defendants we have already included to make changes in plea deals; specifically, I believe a number of not-guilty pleas will change to guilty pleas. As a result of this, I predict we will see an overall increase in the number of guilty pleas we code from here on out.

I believe the project will experience a backlog similar to the court systems – the delaying of cases means an expected influx of court decisions when social distancing guidelines begin to lift. We have to assume that the dates for convictions and sentencing in our ‘pending cases calendar’ have been suspended or changed, meaning we will need to make sure that we have the correct dates and also check that the defendants’ case details have not changed. It is very important for the project to stay on top of the cases in the ‘Pending Cases’ doc and ensure we are not overloaded once convictions resume.

References

  1. Corley, C. (2020, March 24). In Many Places, The Coronavirus Is Putting The Criminal Justice System On Hold. Retrieved May 6, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/2020/03/24/820957265/in-many-places-the-coronavirus-is-putting-the-criminal-justice-system-on-hold
  2. Givas, N. (2020, April 16). Over 16K US inmates have been released as coronavirus crisis has progressed. Retrieved May 6, 2020, from https://www.foxnews.com/us/here-is-how-many-prisoners-have-been-released-covid-19
  3. Reynolds, M. (2020, March 19). How the coronavirus is upending the criminal justice system. Retrieved May 6, 2020, from https://www.abajournal.com/web/article/pandemic-upends-criminal-justice-system
  4. Suliman, A., Eckardt, A., & Joselow, G. (2020, March 26). Coronavirus prompts prisoner releases around the world. Retrieved May 6, 2020, from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/coronavirus-prompts-prisoner-releases-around-world-n1169426
  5. Wolf, R. (2020, May 4). Supreme Court hears first case by telephone, with audio livestreamed. Retrieved May 6, 2020, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/05/04/supreme-court-hears-first-ever-oral-argument-phone-live-audio/3077073001/

Further Considerations on COVID-19 and Its Influence on tPP

Further Considerations on COVID-19 and Its Influence on tPP

Stephanie Sorich

In March of 2020, classes at our former university home of the Project, were put on a “temporary” hold in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and eventually moved online for the remainder of the year. While not all members of tPP participate through the class we hold twice a week, a large portion of us found ourselves questioning how the Project would function moving forward, alongside our own worries about our other education pursuits, professional job searching, and worries about our health.

And yet, we moved forward: coding pairs coded their weekly cases, the steering committee continued to find new ways to advance the Project, and independent researchers continued to do the same individual work they’d been doing most of the year. In a time of uncertainty, the best that any of us could do- not only in the project, but in life- was to keep trying and hope for the best. Of course, it isn’t always so easy.

Coding cases requires resources that junior coders like myself don’t have access to in my home. Typically, to get the documents we need to code a case, we can check to see if documents from federal court cases are available on RECAP, a website that allows PACER users to download otherwise potentially expensive documents for all users to read for free. If the documents my coding partner and I need are not available there, we then put in a PACER request to Michael, as he is the only one with access to PACER on behalf of the Project.

At home, I go through that same process. I search for the case on RECAP, and ask Michael to search PACER if the documents I need aren’t available. However, unlike doing it in class, I can’t expect Michael to have the documents back to me within the hour. The email I send him may go until the next day without being read, and I can’t expect anything more.

There’s a certain guilt that comes about in times like this when you need to ask for help. There’s a part of me that feels foolish asking Michael for PACER documents, knowing that he has his own family and situation to worry about. I don’t want to ask the steering committee members questions about my case, because they’re students like me just desperately trying to figure out how to navigate school in a now completely online setting. It’s easy to feel like a burden to others when the only discussion you are having is about the difficulties, and what you need from another person despite those difficulties.

But this project was built specifically for coders and team members to rely on one another. The project only works if every single one of us does, too. Of course, the pandemic may have changed the ways in which we go about doing that work: I can say for certain I have never done so much coding in my pajamas before. But continuing to work with and for one another is not only necessary, but should be encouraged. While I fear that my need for assistance is only adding burdens on to others, they are likely finding the same normalcy in tPP as I am.

We find ourselves in a period incomparable to anything else within our lifetimes. And yet, we’ve found a way to continue on. The flexibility which we have had to demonstrate only gives me hope that this project is stable enough to tackle whatever is necessary when life (and therefore the Project) returns to normal. There is strength in knowing for sure we are able to endure the tough times, and tPP has now proven itself durable enough to last through one of the most unsure times in human history. I’m personally proud to be a part of it.

For help coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, find resources and information here.

Laptop Lectures

Laptop Lectures

Madison Weaver

While we have all been suspended from face-to-face instruction as of March 10th, 2020, fortunately, our tPP team is accustomed to working in a decentralized manner and using technology to its fullest. We have team members that work day-by-day in the classroom setting while others contribute from hundreds of miles away. During this time of isolation, we are able to utilize the benefits of technology by facetiming our coding partners, checking our online Trello board for to-dos, or zooming with our professor, Dr. Loadenthal, for weekly check-ins. This transition has made me reflect on just how much I, and this project, rely on technology for success.

While most of the world is adjusting to a new type of normal during this COVID-19 pandemic, one of the things students and teachers are now balancing is how to adjust to new teaching, thinking, writing, and learning styles online. We already use sites such as google drive and other various internet sites in order to code our cases as well as use twitter and new sources to stay up to date on new case starters. Additionally, we employ technology by calling or skyping guest speakers during our tPP class times to gain more insight into the surrounding areas of our project. Whether it is tPP Advisory Board members such as Seamus Hughes, Erin Kearns, Richard Rubenstein, Emily Gorcenski, William Braniff, Gary Ackerman, Ryan Scrivens, or Kurt Braddock, or other prominent members of surrounding fields, such as T.A. Staderman, technology has been a vital aspect for this group to grow, learn, and further our project into the future.

tPP has, in many ways, conquered the challenges of doing team-based research and “cultivate[d] positive dynamics among the staff in order for the team to be effectively responsive to the ever changing circumstances of the project” even among this social isolation.[1] This project strives to stay as up to date as possible and is always adapting the project for the better. Furthermore, “anticipating issues and problems, then developing practical solutions that are carefully designed, methodical, and appropriate to the issue or problem” is key.[2] With that comes looking ahead at how the current COVID-19 Pandemic is going to influence our codebook and cases. Not only are terrorism cases surrounding purposeful spread of the virus occurring, but because of the increase in technology use, terrorism in cyberspace and the threat it brings has also heightened. While there have been cases where defendants were charged with both computer hacking and terrorism charges, it is not commonly seen in the public. This pandemic coupled with the rise in technology use and computer hacking could potentially mix for the perfect storm of an attack on specific people, groups, or businesses if one has the means to do so. While, I have not seen any yet, I do think that this is an interesting niche of terrorism in which the project should keep an eye on in the near future.

While looking ahead and adapting our work now can seem to create more work in the immediate future, our team is much better prepared to take on whatever comes next, whether it is continuing with laptop lectures rather than face-to-face interactions, working from miles away as older members matriculate off into other fields, or changing where we are hosted as a project, tPP remains strong and determined to intervening in the criminal justice discourse.

[1] Natasha Mack, Arwen Bunce, and Betty Akumatey, “A Logistical Framework for Enhancing Team Dynamics,” in Handbook for Team-Based Qualitative Research (Lanham, MD: AltaMira press, 2008), 61–97.

[2] Mack, Bunce, and Akumatey.

COVID-19’s Effects on Crime Reporting and Case Management

COVID-19’s Effects on Crime Reporting and Case Management

Catie Barry

With millions of people out of work due to government-mandated stay-at-home orders, it leaves the streets seemingly much more riddled with crime. With websites such as Time, Forbes and PBS reporting a significant decrease in crime due to the pandemic, it leaves the public believing that a decrease in social interaction correlates directly with a decrease in crime. However, something to keep in mind that a decrease in arrests and reported crime does not necessarily mean a decrease in crime. For example, crimes that are typically reported by mandated reporters rather than the victim themselves; such as child abuse and domestic violence, it can be logically assumed these incidents are occurring more often due to quarantine and added stress during this national crisis. Also, we must take into consideration the decrease in policing of the streets due to a large percentage of the police force themselves having to quarantine due to being diagnosed with the coronavirus or just being exposed to it, like the rest of the population. With this in mind, one can deduce that with a decrease in policing, there is a decrease in arrests. Again, one can not conclude this means there is a decrease in crime, there is just a decrease in arrests due to law enforcement resources. In fact, murders and commercial burglaries are on the rise since the start of the pandemic in major cities, especially in NYC.

This mindset is important to maintain when approaching all of our data, that we are only dealing with crimes that have been reported; and terrorist activity and hate crimes have happened and will continue to take place without ever being reported to the police.

My final project for the Prosecution Project has been working on case updates; we have attempted to integrate a method involving Google Calendar into the manual which will ultimately help reduce the backlog of cases in our Pending Cases tab.

In order to figure out a way to fix our backlog issue within pending cases, we have to figure out why it is a problem in the first place. The four most common explanations are 1) the fact that they are old court cases where the majority of the documents are probably in paper format at the court where the case was filed; 2) they are sealed documents or part of a closed hearing; 3) we as researchers are doing an insufficient job when trying to receive information from different data formats or; 4) individual state courts are inconsistent about providing online access to records.

Michael J. Jensen drew attention to the third point in his book Theory and Methods in Political Science, he explained “digital data are often housed in online spaces which can be accessed, either openly, by anyone, or once a researcher has received special permission. In addition, the data obtained often comes with restrictions on the terms of service which do not always conform to standard practices of scientific research…there are four common ways in which researchers obtain digital data, whether the data is administrative or relatively unstructured social media. These comprise text formatted with extensible markup language (XML), via an API, web crawling and web scraping” (310). Our project mainly deals with web crawling and scraping, possibly attempting to integrate the use of the other 2 methods would benefit our project— however, our current methods have proved pretty effective and it seems the others require more computer science knowledge which many of the members of the project lack.

Cases from the 1990s in the Pending Cases tab that despite hours of research in PACER and exploring almost every corner of Google, have proved very difficult to locate any case updates on, probably fall into the first category. Especially considering the clause in the sixth amendment which ensures all Americans the right to a speedy trial, we can assume that these cases are probably documented on paper form rather than online.

I want to draw attention to the fourth reason brought up as to why court records prove hard to locate: individual state courts are inconsistent about providing online access to records. I was curious as to how COVID-19 would affect both federal and state case management and case tracking, which directly affects projects such as ours. I was able to gain some insight from my father, who is the chief clerk of the New York City Criminal Court on this particular issue, which I thought would be especially relevant taking into account New York City is considering it is the most infected city in the entire world right now. He told me, “The virus has presented many challenges for the courts especially in trying to protect their employees”. He further explained how most of the employees are not asked to come into work, the courts are doing virtual arraignments and special applications, but all trials have been delayed and little to no sentencing is being done (most prisons aren’t even accepting new inmates). When asked about how coronavirus would affect a project such as ours, he said “most case management systems are not being updated, or if they are, very infrequently… if you went into WebCrim right now (the New York State Courts website which provides information on criminal cases with future appearance dates), the information you would see would most likely be incorrect, both the courts and the defendant themselves don’t know when they are going to be scheduled to come back”. He explained to me that there simply is not enough staff to update cases on a regular basis. Our project must keep short-staffed courts in mind when going forward and attempting to update cases. Every place of work, every institution and every person is struggling in some aspect due to the pandemic; and as researchers, the best we can do is be patient and understanding while still doing our best to ensure justice is being met.

Works Cited

Jensen, Michael J. “Big Data: Methods for Collection and Analysis.” In Theory and Methods in Political Science, edited by Vivien Lowndes, David Marsh, and Gerry Stoker, 4th ed., 306–20. London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2018.

Abramson, Ashley. “How COVID-19 May Increase Domestic Violence and Child Abuse.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/topics/covid-19/domestic-violence-child-abuse.

Coyne, Marley. “Crime Rates Across U.S. Drop Amid The Coronavirus Pandemic.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 11 Apr. 2020, www.forbes.com/sites/marleycoyne/2020/04/11/crime-rates-across-us-drop-amid-the-coronavirus-pandemic/.

Lederer, Edith M. “Crime Drops Around the World as COVID-19 Keeps People Inside.” Time, Time, 11 Apr. 2020, time.com/5819507/crime-drop-coronavirus/.

NBC. “Uptick in Murders and Burglaries Driving Crime in NYC During COVID-19 Pandemic: NYPD.” NBC New York, NBC New York, 4 May 2020, www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/crime-in-nyc-continues-to-plummet-amid-covid-19-but-uptick-in-murders-and-burglaries-seen/2401556/.

Nolan, Tom. “What Policing during the Pandemic Reveals about Crime Rates and Arrests.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 15 Apr. 2020, www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/what-policing-during-the-pandemic-reveals-about-crime-rates-and-arrests.

A brand new website!

Hello world!

Welcome to our brand new site! As we transition away from our prior institutional host, we felt it was important to host and manage our own website, and here it is!

There are still some broken links and other cosmetic fixes, but bear with us as we complete this change and get ready for great things from our team!

A Focus on Organization and Uniformity


This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.


A Focus on Organization and Uniformity

Morgan Demboski

As the project grows and matures, the processes and content are changing, which creates non-uniformity in the dataset between our past cases and the cases we are adding and coding currently. In our class, our weekly assignment consists of submitting five new and completely coded cases to add to the dataset. These cases are then checked every two weeks by a steering team member where mistakes are pinpointed and corrected. This has been successful thus far, but as we continue in the process, I believe it is not the most effective way to move the project forward.

The first reason for this is miscommunication and confusion. Since we update the codebook often, some students are left behind on what was changed and are still coding in the old way, completely unaware that anything has changed. For example, we recently changed how charges are coded in the spreadsheet. Though before we did not have a uniform way of coding charges, we now add formal charge numbers and note how many counts there are for each charge by placing the number between two brackets ( [ ] ).

Such as in the case of Ardit Ferizi, his charges are coded (correctly) as: 18 U.S.C, 2339B Conspiracy to Provide Material Support and Resources to a Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization [2 counts]; 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2)(C) Unauthorized Computer Access and Obtaining Information; 18 U.S.C. 1028A(a)(2) Aggravated Identity Theft. However, when looking at the U//FOUO (our finished cases) doc, I noticed that the charges variable is coded incorrectly for about 95% of the cases, and this is not the only variable that stands un-updated on multiple cases.

I think a part of the class should be spent focusing on the uniformity of specific variables in the U//FOUO doc. For example, we would spend a class, or more if needed, splitting up years between each other and checking if all the charges are written according to the updated codebook.

We also have a problem of students coding cases they think are new, but have actually already been included in our dataset. My partner and I have run into many problems where we thought we were adding new cases, but actually had done unnecessary work because the cases were already fully coded and included in our dataset. Focusing on the cases we do have will help students become familiar with the cases and reduce the likelihood of duplicate cases. However, for new cases, when someone finds a new case, they can add it to the appropriate New Cases folder. Then, students can create case starters and code those cases for extra credit, but it would not be required each week. The focus regarding new cases will be on renaming, sorting, and filing all of the files in the New Cases folder while identifying what files contain actual new cases and what files contain updated information for pending cases.

Class could also be spent coming up with a better way to monitor and manage pending cases. Right now, we have a calendar noting when specific defendants are due to declare a plea, receive a verdict, or be sentenced. I think it would be helpful to have some kind of notification system so we are alerted when one of these cases moves further in the prosecution process. We currently have cases in the Pending Cases doc that date back all the way to 1993 (meaning they should not still be pending). Turning more of our focus to updating pending cases will help us organize the dataset as well as allow us to focus on staying up to date with cases that are actually pending and not fall behind.

Though there are project members outside of the class working on various things, including auditing, the main focus of the project class is adding and coding cases. I think this is helpful because it helps us expand and grow our dataset; however, I think a focus on organization and uniformity would be more productive and efficient for the project. As Miles, Huberman, and Saldana say in their book, Qualitative Data Analysis: A Methods Sourcebook, Codes are primarily used to retrieve and categorize similar data chunks so the researcher can quickly find, pull out, and cluster the segments relating to a particular research question, hypothesis, construct, or theme (Miles, Huberman, Saldana, 2014, p. 72).

In order to use our codes, they need to be uniform and organized so we can categorize similar data chunks. We already have an auditing process in place, but I believe that organizing our dataset will help us come up with more uniform procedures and pinpoint reoccurring problems that we find. This will also help prevent us from adding more cases that are coded incorrectly and help clear up confusion on how certain variables should be coded.

Bibliography

ISIL-Linked Kosovo Hacker Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison. (2016, September 23). Retrieved March 29, 2020, from https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/isil-linked-kosovo-hacker-sentenced-20-years-prison

Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M., & Saldan?a Johnny. (2020). Qualitative data analysis: a methods sourcebook. Los Angeles: SAGE.