A new study from the United States Sentencing Commission found that in 2022, more than 32% of all federal crimes sentenced in Alabama were related to firearms, more than double the national percentage of 14.5%.
Nationally, 9,318 federal sentences related to firearms were issued in 2022, which constituted 14.5% of the total 64,142 federal sentences issued that year. Drug-related felonies made up the largest portion of all federal charges nationwide at 31.5%, followed by immigration-related felonies at 27.5%.
In Alabama, there were 295 firearm-related felony sentences issued in 2022, 263 of which carried prison sentences, and for just four, probation or other prison-alternatives. Of the total 914 federal sentences issued in Alabama in 2022, the 295 firearm felonies made up nearly a third of all federal sentences that year, carrying a sentencing rate of 5.8 per 100,000 residents.
Even more drug-related felonies were issued in Alabama in 2022 than firearm offenses.
Of the 914 federal sentences issued in Alabama in 2022, drug-related felonies made up 37.4% of them, the state’s top-sentenced federal crime. While Alabama is not alone in drug-related felonies being the state’s top-sentenced federal crime, which is true for all but eight states, 37.4% of all felonies being drug-related did surpass the national percentage of 31.5% by a significant margin.
Broken down further, drug trafficking felonies made up the bulk of the drug-related offenses in Alabama at 323, compared to just 19 for drug possession. By far the most common drug involved with the federal sentences was methamphetamine, which constituted 55.5% of all drug-related felonies, considerably higher than the national percentage of 48.5%.
Powder cocaine was Alabama’s next-most common drug involved with the state’s drug-related felonies at 13.4%, lower than the national percentage of 17.3%. Fentanyl, which lawmakers aggressively targeted this past legislative session with enhanced minimum sentences, constituted 4.9% of all drug-related felonies, significantly lower than the national percentage of 12.6%.
Whatever the federal charge, the vast majority of them in 2022 were settled in court with a plea bargain. Of the 914 federal sentences issued, 884, or 96.7% of them were settled through plea bargaining, which is the process of pleading guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for sentencing leniency.
Plea bargaining has been in practice in the United States for centuries, though its use has increased significantly in recent decades. In 1984, approximately 84% of federal cases were settled by a plea bargain, compared to 97.3% in 2016.
Proponents of the increased use of the practice have argued it benefits all parties by saving time and costs for the criminal justice system, while also reducing penalties for those convicted. Opponents to over reliance on plea bargains have argued that the practice has coercive effects on innocent subjects to plead guilty, and that the practice acts as a general deterrent to individuals to exercise their constitutional right to a speedy and public trial.