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Court Decision-Making in Domestic Violence Cases: An Analysis of the Case Processing Pipeline in South Carolina

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Awardee County
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $357,234)

In the context of limited research regarding DV case processing and continued interest in better understanding court actor decision-making, the current proposal outlines a two-year study focusing on the DV case pipeline within a demographically diverse circuit in South Carolina. Through a research-practitioner partnership with the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s office, the study aims to document DV case pathways, identify the legal and extralegal factors that influence decision-making from prosecution to sentencing, recognize the typical outcomes and sentences for DV cases, evaluate the impact of a change in prosecutorial policy on case processing, and determine the feasibility of future evaluation-based research on pretrial intervention practices. A convergent parallel mixed-methods design is proposed that includes a(n):

Large-scale collection of case-level data spanning calendar years 2017-2018 (estimated at over 1,000 cases) to be analyzed descriptively and through multivariate analysis.
Content analysis of incident reports, victim impact statements, prosecutor notes, and prosecutorial case summaries.
Interviews with prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, victim advocates, and investigators using a grounded theory approach.

Given the commonality of selection bias in pretrial processing and sentencing research, a strategy to overcome selection effects using proper exclusion restrictions and sensitivity analysis will be used. The focus will be placed on three key independent variables, including victim characteristics/ circumstances, situational factors of the incident, and evidence information. The dependent variables of interest include prosecution/dismissal, detention/bail, initial charges pursued at screening, mode of disposition, plea negotiations, alternative sanctions, sentencing, and time from arrest to disposition. Findings are expected to expand existing theoretical perspectives related to case processing and court actor decision-making and contribute to policy discussions within the state and nation surrounding court practices and procedures related to DV. In addition to a final report, the findings will be disseminated through journal articles, formal presentations to state agencies, national conference presentations, and webinars. Final data sets will be archived appropriately for future research and replication.

Date Created: October 21, 2021