DOJ Report: Most Violent Felons Have Priors

Posted: August 8th, 2006 01:32 PM PDT
Associated Press Writer

More than half of those convicted of violent felonies in large urban areas between 1990 and 2002 had previous convictions, the U.S. Justice Department reported Sunday.

Nearly four in 10, or 38 percent, had some type prior felony conviction, while an additional 18 percent had a prior misdemeanor conviction, the Bureau of Justice Statistics said.

Fifteen percent were guilty of a prior violent felony – murder, rape, robbery or assault. Rapists were least likely to have a prior conviction.

The study released Sunday by the Justice Department examined crime figures from the nation’s 75 most populous counties, ranging from Los Angeles and Pima County, Ariz., to Pinellas County, Fla., and Montgomery County, Md., just outside Washington.

About half of all the violent crimes reported nationwide occur in these areas, the report said.

The study found that 70 percent of violent felons convicted during the period had a prior arrest record, though not necessarily a conviction, and that 57 percent had at least one prior arrest for a felony. Sixty–seven percent of murderers and 73 percent of those convicted of robbery or assault had an arrest record.

Nearly all the violent felons, 91 percent, were male; 41 percent were black.

Majorities of the convicted robbers and murderers were below age 25 – 56 percent and 50 percent, respectively. Forty percent of those convicted of assault and one–third of the rapists were under 25.

Youthful offenders were not a significant percentage of those committing violent acts.

Ten percent of the murderers and 12 percent of robbers were 18 and under. In the categories of assault and rape, 4 percent of each of those crimes were committed by offenders under 18.

A total 180,298 crimes were committed between 1990 and 2002, but the largest category involved drugs. More than 69,000 drug crimes were reported, for 38.3 percent of the total.

Property crimes were next, with more 59,000 offenses or 32.7 percent of the total.

Violent crimes ranked third; more than 32,000 cases accounted for 18.2 percent of the total.

When it came time to judge cases and hand down punishment, most violent felons, 88 percent, were convicted through a guilty plea rather than at trial. Most, 81 percent, also were incarcerated.

At the time of their convictions, 59 percent of violent felons were represented by public defenders and 21 percent had private attorneys.