DOJ: Over Half of Violent Felons Have a Record of Crime

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

Nearly four in 10, or 38 percent, of those convicted of violent felonies had previous felony convictions.

Another 18 percent had prior misdemeanor convictions.

In all, 56 percent of violent felons during that period had prior convictions of some sort, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported.

More than half of those guilty of assault, robbery or murder had at least one prior felony or misdemeanor conviction. Rapists were least likely to already have a conviction record.

Of those with felony convictions between 1990 and 2002, 15 percent of that group were guilty of prior violent felonies — murder, rape, robbery or assault.

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, Arizona, to Pinellas County, Florida, and Montgomery County, Maryland, just outside Washington.

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

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.