This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.
Coding: The efficiency of Group Cases
The Project’s dataset gives a distinction between cases where there are multiple offenders and those cases where the crime is perpetrated by a single person. The variable co-offenders in our dataset is denoted with a yes for those cases where there are multiple defendants charged for the related crimes and a no for cases where the defendant was not conspiring or working with another on the criminal activity. My coding partner Sara and I have encountered and coded both types of cases and we agree that when it comes time to choose the cases we want to code group cases are the way to go.
One of the reasons that group cases are easier to code is because when it comes to locating court documents (for instance an indictment, plea, sentencing, etc.) defendants are often tried together. (a photo example of an indictment with multiple defendants is pictured at the end of this blog post) When defendants are tried together usually all of the information about the crimes and the defendants are on one single page throughout the course of the case. This fact makes the transfer of information into the cells on the coding sheets we work with faster and easier because multiple variables will be coded the same way for each of the defendants.
Furthermore in my opinion group cases are usually more attention grabbing for many reasons – they are often premeditated, more severe, more interesting, etc.- which leads to more news stories and attention going into the case. For the project’s purposes cases with more media focus often yield more data sources and sources that don’t take as much extensive research to find. In sum cases with multiple offenders are less time-consuming to code because:
- you don’t have to look for several files for each defendant but rather you often can find files with all the defenders information in one place,
- transferring the information onto the coding spreadsheet is easier since the defendants usually have the same information for multiple cells, and
- source files are often easier to find for co-offenders because group cases may get more media attention than individual cases defending on the specifics of the case.
To illustrate the efficiency of coding group cases I will discuss a case I worked with last week. It was a group case about 4 defendants associated with the violent rightist organization known as the Rise Above Movement. A quick summary of the case and its sentencing outcomes from the Department of Justice can be found at this link for all those interested: RAM Case.
In this instance there were several defendants associated with perpetrating violence on behalf of their socio political values at several political protests/rallies, but most notably the Charlottesville Unite the Right Protest in 2017. The indictment shows just how easy it can be to gather information on multiple defendants at one time since they are charged and referenced in one document. Looking at the actual data set for the defendants that my coding pair worked on there are several variables that are labeled the same for each of the defendants since the crimes were so related.
For instance: The date and date descriptor is the same for the co-defendants since they were indicted together on October 10th 2018, the case name was the same for all defendants since they were charged together: United States of America v. Benjamin Drake Daley, Michael Paul Miselis, Thomas Walter Gillen, and Cole Evan White, location of the crime (city, state, and country) were all the same, target (targeting people at a public event) were the same, ideological target and affiliation was the same for both offenders, tactic to complete the crime was the same (unarmed assault), the defendants were charged with the same exact crimes, and there are several others coded the same way for each defendant.
As you can see group cases make coding easier for the coder since much of the information, compiled in one place, is the same for each conspirator to the crime. This all makes sense given that co-offenders often have the same ideological values, work together on how to best achieve their aims, and decide together who is the aim intending to affect and why. Had this case been individual defendants rather than a codefendants the time it takes to find information and the time it takes to transfer that information to the spreadsheet would add up to have been way more time consuming. Taking advantage of coding group cases makes the coders life so much easier.
Johnny Saldana, in his Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers, discusses some of the main qualities that coders should strive to have when coding. One of these main qualities he identifies as being creative. He discusses that being creative in the planning stages of coding takes “a little bit of data and a lot of right brain” (Saldana, 39) and that coders need to be able to think about all the ways to approach a problem before coding to do so in the smartest way. I believe that taking an interest in group cases as a way to make coding more efficient is a creative way for the coder to save time and energy later when considered before choosing cases to code. It’s a creative way to make coding easier.
Saldana, Johnny. The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers Third Edition. 3rd edition. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2015.
The United States Department of Justice. Three Members of California-Based White Supremacist Group Sentenced on Riots Charges Related to August 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ Rally in Charlottesville. 19 July 2019.