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October 2000
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Web Watch

Making the Criminal Case

By Robert J. Ambrogi

Making the Criminal CaseYOU WANT TO show the jury the relationship between homicide rates and education levels in your state. Or maybe you need to beef up a brief with data on how many robberies were reported in your county over the past decade.

Whether for the defense or the prosecution, criminal lawyers can use government statistics, reports and other official documents at every stage of a case, from initial investigation to final sentencing. The Web is a virtual warehouse of such information, where sites hosted by federal and state criminal-justice and law-enforcement agencies provide easy access to practice guides, primary law, legal pleadings, government studies, and voluminous statistics.

Start with the U.S. Department of Justice, whose Bureau of Justice Statistics, houses an extensive and useful library of data about crime and victims, drugs, criminal offenders, the justice system, law enforcement, prosecution, courts and sentencing, corrections, expenditures, and other special topics. Of particular use to criminal-justice professionals is Crime and Justice Electronic Data Abstracts, where the BJS has pulled together crime and justice data from a variety of published sources and made it available in spreadsheet form to facilitate its use in analysis, graphing and mapping.

The files contain thousands of numbers and hundreds of categories, displayed by jurisdiction and time. Wherever possible, the data is the most recent available. Sources for the data include BJS statistics on correctional populations and federal case processing, the Uniform Crime Reporting program of the FBI, and the Bureau of the Census.

If you are trying to find data about specific events and outcomes, such as the number of defendants prosecuted, convicted and sentenced in a given year, try the Federal Justice Statistics Resource Center. This online database from the Federal Justice Statistics Program contains comprehensive information about suspects and defendants processed in each stage of the federal criminal justice system.

It includes data collected from the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Pretrial Services Administration, U.S. courts of appeals, and the Federal Probation Supervision Information System, with coverage spanning 1994 to the most recent data-reporting year. You can also download criminal justice datasets for more in-depth analysis. The DOJ's Bureau of Justice Statistics funds the center, which is operated by the Urban Institute, an economic and social policy research organization.

Another useful site for criminal-justice statistics is that of the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data. The National Archive houses more than 550 data collections relating to criminal justice.

The collections, which can be searched by key word, subject or title, contain a wealth of potentially useful reports and studies relating to sentencing, probation, jury selection and more. It is sponsored by the University of Michigan and the BJS.

For a more general array of reports and information related to criminal justice, try the Justice Information Center. This site, by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, lives up to its claim to be "one of the most extensive sources of information on criminal and juvenile justice in the world." Clearinghouse for the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, its holdings are organized by major categories, such as corrections, courts, crime prevention, criminal justice statistics, drugs, juvenile justice, and more. Within each category are libraries of documents and reports as well as links to related Web sites. Select "Drugs and Crime," for example, and you can download the 2000 National Drug Control Strategy, a report titled, "Keeping Youth Drug Free," or any of a number of fact sheets on drug-related crime.

Beyond Statistics

Beyond statistics, government-sponsored Web sites include other forms of useful information and resources for criminal lawyers. If you practice in federal court, one site that could prove indispensable is that of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Even for those who practice only in state court, there is a wide range of useful information to be found here. Among the highlights are the complete text of the Sentencing Guidelines Manual -- which you can either download or view online in hypertext format -- and a library of the commission's research and reports on such matters as mandatory sentencing and drug policies.

If, on the other hand, your practice is more on the cutting edge, pay a visit to Cybercrime. Launched in March 2000 by the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, Cybercrime provides information on the expanding number of crimes related to the Internet, focusing on hackers and intellectual property crime.

The site includes a variety of materials, such as press releases, speeches by Justice Department officials, Congressional testimony, letters and Justice Department reports. In addition, there is material to help the general public and law enforcement, including information on how to report Internet-related crime.

Materials on the site are organized according to the legal or policy issues involved. Categories include investigating and prosecuting computer crime, protecting intellectual property rights, electronic commerce, speech issues, searches and seizures of computers, encryption, privacy, and law-enforcement coordination.

Many government sites focus on law enforcement and criminal prosecution. Whether in your local post office or in Cyberspace, the most recognizable icon of law enforcement is the 10-most-wanted list of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. At the FBI's Web site, you will find the list and much more, including extensive information about the FBI and its operations, as well as about current and recent investigations.

Topics covered at the site include international crime, economic espionage, wiretapping, and electronic surveillance. Statistics from the Uniform Crime Reporting Program are available, as is information about the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System and the National Crime Information Computer. Think only the FBI has a most-wanted list? There is another one over at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms of the U.S. Dept. of the Treasury, which you can see at its Web site.

You will also find in-depth information about the ATF's role in policing not only alcohol, tobacco and firearms, but also arson and explosives. Sections describe each of these programs in detail. Also at the site are the full text of regulations enforced by the ATF, downloadable forms, and other information about the bureau.

Sponsor of several of the statistical and law-enforcement sites discussed above, the U.S. Department of Justice, also lays claim to being "the largest law firm in the nation," and much of its legal work is criminal justice.

Its main site includes information on a number of criminal-justice programs and initiatives and provides a gateway to the sites of its various divisions, including the Criminal Division and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

While the sites above are all federal in their focus, many state and local prosecutors and law-enforcement officials have Web sites of their own. A quick route to finding them is Prosecutors on the Web. Created by the Eaton County, Mich., prosecuting attorney, this is a collection of links to Web sites maintained by prosecuting attorneys, district attorneys, attorneys general and U.S. attorneys nationwide.

It is organized by state and includes federal and international listings, as well as sites for prosecutors' associations.

Criminal-defense agencies are on the Web as well, and the best of their sites maybe Criminal Defense Online, maintained by the Michigan State Appellate Defender Office. Although its focus is Michigan, this is a useful and comprehensive site for criminal lawyers everywhere.

The heart of this site is its criminal-defense database, which SADO aptly describes as on online "motherload."

Among its contents are appellate briefs filed by SADO attorneys; other pleadings, including trial motions and model appellate pleadings; summaries of criminal opinions from the U.S. Supreme Court, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. District Court for Michigan, and Michigan state courts; sample voir dire questions; information on expert witnesses who work with criminal defense lawyers; and non-standard jury instructions.

The database is available only to criminal defense attorneys who register and pay a $30 annual fee, but it is well worth the price of admission.

Robert J. Ambrogi is director of the American Lawyer Media News Service.

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