Student entries

The Intricacies of Coding Group Cases and their relationship with Pacer


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


The Intricacies of Coding Group Cases and their relationship with PACER

Meekael Hailu

Being a coder for the Prosecution Project, you are exposed to an incredibly expansive spread of cases, as well as a large amount of Group Cases. As I’ve begun my coding journey with this team, I’ve coded a variety of different cases featuring differing inclusion criteria. But an intriguing experience for me was breaking down and coding my first group case.

My first group case was about an 18 person racketeering operation through the Universal Aryan Brotherhood. From the outside, coding a group case might seem like it is an easy task since many of the individuals share the same codes. Although when coding individual or group cases, it’s integral to remain diligent in searching for any deviance in data points to code. I found it crucial during my coding of this large case to try and find as many demographical details regarding each member of the group that I will be coding to maintain the level of detail that I would have for an individual case.

To find the details that are different for each individual, one can hope that the federal indictment would feature said details. One example is the ages of all the individuals. When it came to coding the ages for the members of the group racketeering case for the Universal Aryan Brotherhood, all of the ages were on the federal indictment. But when I dug deeper for more details on that specific case from various other sources on the web, I found additional supplemental members of the racketeering operation that all were not listed on the Federal Indictment.

Another example of the imperative precautions that need to be completed when coding a group case is making sure that the group identifier that is being used is exclusive and unique to your case. This sounds like a minute detail, but if not followed can cause confusion and lost time for various members of our team. These are just some of the handful of precautions a coder must be somewhat familiar with when tackling a group case. This is a great reason why when coding cases, group or individual, having the codebook out in some capacity while the coding is taking place can save the coder future worry and stress. The codebook that is being employed for the Prosecution Project is exclusive to this project, and is constantly being tweaked and edited to make sure that the process from beginning to end of coding a case is becoming more streamlined and easy to accomplish, as well as serving as a common and shared reference point for all the coders when issues do arise. Being a part of an organized team that functions well like the Prosecution Project is a wonderful and extremely foundational aspect of coding group cases.

Some of our materials are sourced using PACER, with the help of a court order which allows some cost savings.  As explained in “The Cost of Electronic Access to US Court Filings Is Facing a Major Legal Test of Its Own”:

“The 10 cents a page that most people are charged to view documents in Pacer, an online database of papers led by litigants in the US federal courts, doesn’t sound like much. But critics of the setup say this cost is just the beginning.” (Browdie, 2016).”

When coding a group case or even just an individual case, having to navigate PACER’s archaic website while getting charged for each case you look up can definitely add up. At times, within the team we realize how strange of a system it is to have to pay to research Federal Court Cases, and various users outside the scope of PACER tend to agree. Group Cases require digging at times, and when you have to repeatedly think back during the process of coding to how much you are getting charged, even if it is less than one dollar, it still to some extent hinders the flow and productivity rate that is crucial when working for projects such as the Prosecution Project.

References

Browdie, B. (2018, August 10). The cost of electronic access to US court filings is facing a major legal test of its own. Retrieved from https://qz.com/800076/the-cost-of-electronic-access-to-us-court-filings-is-facing-a-major-legal-test-of-its-own/.

Miller, K. (2019, February 21). 18 members of white supremacist prison gang indicted. Retrieved from https://apnews.com/b1b7cafc34f54aea9d01b7bba675fd24.

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