Find the facts behind the claims about the U.S. justice system

JustiFACT is a fact-checking project that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials, candidates, pundits, activists, the media and others who speak about criminal justice. The initiative also presents the facts, background and prospective impact of proposed legislation. After investigation and research, JustiFACT staffers rate the accuracy of statements and legislative claims as follows: 
Zero Bars = True, One Bar = Mostly True, Two Bars = Jury’s Out, Three Bars = Mostly False, Four Bars = Busted!

FAMM is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. FAMM does not endorse any candidate or party in any election, and it does not make any campaign contributions. The information here is not provided and should not be interpreted as an endorsement of any particular candidate or party. 


 

Donald Trump

   
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“On crime, the murder rate has experienced its largest increase in 45 years. … Highest in 45 years, the murder rate.”

Donald Trump, President-elect, in a speech in North Carolina on December 6, 2016. He has repeated this statement on multiple occasions, according to press reports. 

We gave Donald Trump’s statement FOUR BARS because it is FALSE. 

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Hillary Clinton

   
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“Well, it’s also fair to say, if we’re going to talk about mayors, that under the current mayor [of New York City], crime has continued to drop, including murders.”

Hillary Clinton, Democratic nominee for President, in the first presidential debate against Republican nominee Donald Trump on September 26, 2016

 

We gave Hillary Clinton’s statement TWO BARS because the JURY’S OUT on 2016 murders in New York City. While she’s correct that crime has gone down in New York City in recent years, murders went up in 2015. Full data are not yet available for murders in 2016.

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Donald Trump

   
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“In Chicago, they’ve had thousands of shootings since January 1st. … [A]lmost 4,000 have been killed since Barack Obama became president…”

Donald Trump, Republican nominee for President, talking about crime at the first presidential debate against Democratic nominee for President Hillary Clinton on September 26, 2016

We gave Donald Trump’s statement ZERO BARS because it is TRUE. 

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Eric Holder

   
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“[W]e cut the federal prison population and the crime rate together for the first time in more than 40 years. … Despite the fiction and the fear mongering you have heard from the other party’s nominee, violent crime has gone down since President Obama took office.”

Eric Holder, July 26, 2016, Democratic National Convention speech 

We gave former attorney general Holder’s statement ONE BAR because it is MOSTLY TRUE. Both crime and the federal prison population have declined during the Obama administration, for the first time in 40 years. However, preliminary data from 2015  show that violent crime rose that year.

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Eric Holder

   

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“Black defendants in the federal system receive sentences 20 percent longer than their white peers.”

Eric Holder, July 26, 2016, Democratic National Convention speech

We gave former attorney general Holder’s statement ZERO BARS because it is TRUE. According to a 2012 U.S. Sentencing Commission report, black male offenders received sentences that were “19.5 percent longer than those of similarly situated White male offenders” sentenced in federal courts between 2007 and 2011. 

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Donald Trump

   
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“These are the facts. Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this Administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement. Homicides last year increased by 17% in America’s fifty largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years.”

Donald Trump, Republican nominee for President, talking about crime in a speech at the Republican National Convention on July 18, 2016

We gave Donald Trump’s statement TWO BARS because the JURY’S OUT. Not all the data are in yet, but preliminary data do suggest that violent crime rose in 2015. However, crime remains very low compared to its peak in the early 1990s, and it’s too early to tell whether this crime rise will continue and turn into a long-term trend.

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Sen. Cory Booker    
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“[The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, S. 2123, is] in my lifetime the first reversal of mass incarceration in the federal level.”

 Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), May 17, 2016

We gave Senator Booker’s statement TWO BARS because the JURY’S OUT. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act pending in the Senate would reduce the federal prison population, but over the last 25 years, federal sentencing laws and guidelines have undergone several major reforms that numerically have had a far bigger impact on federal incarceration than that projected for the Senate bill.

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Sen. Jeff Sessions    
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“The Senate bill would drastically reduce mandatory minimum drug sentences for all drug traffickers, even those who are armed and traffic in dangerous drugs like heroin, and provide for the early release of dangerous drug felons currently incarcerated in federal prison.”

 Senator Jeff Session (R-AL), May 11, 2016

 

Busted! We gave Senator Sessions’ statement FOUR BARS since it is FALSE. The bill does not reduce all mandatory minimum drug sentences and it allows but does not require courts to release some prisoners early.

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Sen. John Cornyn    
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“If you benefit from the reduction in mandatory minimums under this law, it does not entitle you to a get-out-of-jail free card. All you get under this bill is a hearing in front of the same federal judge who put you in prison in the first place, in front of the same prosecutor who prosecuted you, who can consider all the facts and circumstances in determining whether it is something he ought to grant.”

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), speaking about the Senate Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123), as quoted in The Washington Examiner, on April 28, 2016.


We gave Senator Cornyn’s statement ZERO BARS because it is TRUE. While the Senate reform bill would make some federal prisoners eligible for shorter sentences, the bill does not mandate or guarantee early release for anyone.

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 Sen. Tim Kaine  
Kaine’s record on criminal justice issues 
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“We still have an embarrassingly high number of people in prison compared to other countries.”  

Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), talking about sentencing reform during a sit-down with black leaders in Lynchburg, Virginia, on April 9, 2015.


We gave Senator Kaine’s statement ZERO BARS because it is TRUE. “The U.S. does, in fact, have the largest prison population and the second-highest incarceration rate in the world.” 

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 “Richmond’s success in reducing violent crime was built in part on Project Exile. Project Exile is based on a strong working relationship among federal, state, and local law enforcement officials to maximize the punishment of criminals who commit crimes with guns.” 

Lieutenant Governor Tim Kaine (D-VA) on his 2005 gubernatorial campaign site

We gave Senator Kaine’s statement TWO BARS because the JURY’S OUT. Research shows that Richmond’s violent crime decline was caused by many factors other than the use of mandatory minimum sentences. However, Senator Kaine may be correct that Project Exile was “in part” responsible for part of that decline because researchers can not demonstrate that it played no role at all.

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 Gov. Chris Christie
  Christie’s record on criminal justice issues 
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He’s going past the normal pardon process and just letting these folks out.”

Governor and presidential candidate Chris Christie on November 2, 2015, criticizing President Obama for the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s “drugs minus two” changes to the federal sentencing guidelines after 6,000 federal prisoners were released on November 1, 2015.

 

 

Busted! We gave Governor Christie’s statement FOUR BARS because it is FALSE. Although its members are appointed by the President, the U.S. Sentencing Commission is an independent, nonpartisan agency of the judicial branch, and it has been responsible for setting and revising federal sentencing guidelines since 1987. Its 2014 decisions to reduce federal drug sentencing guidelines and apply those changes retroactively to make 46,000 prisoners eligible for sentence reductions had nothing to do with President Obama or the pardon power, and they did not “just [let] these folks out.”

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