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The Anatomy of Discretion: An Analysis of Prosecutorial Decision-Making in County Prosecutors' Offices

Award Information

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Congressional District
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Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2009, $393,564)

This research examines the influence of extra/legal factors on decisionmaking and case outcomes in two prosecutors offices that vary in management structure and other ways. Administrative data on cases screened between 1/2005 and 12/2009 provide information on offense type and severity, defendant and victim characteristics, strength of evidence, arresting agency, judge, counsel, prosecutor characteristics, and case outcomes (n=50,000 felony and n=46,500 misdemeanor cases using PROTECT in Milwaukee; n=15,000 felony drug and n=50,000 nondrug felony using MeckStet in Mecklenburg). Mass administrations of an anonymous survey onsite collect opinions on prosecution objectives, organization and community relations, training, oversight and management (n=125 line, 23 supervisor, 5 deputy, and chief in Milwaukee; n=75 line, 7 supervisor, 2 deputy and chief in Mecklenburg). Mass administrations of anonymous factorial surveys assess decisionmaking and reasons in response to 30 unique case vignettes randomly varied on extra/legal factors. Decisions stages include screening, plea, and sentencing; factors vary on multiple defendants, victim, and case characteristics. A total of 14 focus groups are conducted in the two sites, in two waves by prosecutor level (inexperienced/midcareer, supervisor, deputy) to develop vignettes and then to interpret findings on how factors are evaluated, and how in/formal mechanisms regulate decisions.


Date Created: September 21, 2009