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An Assessment of Defense and Prosecutorial Strategies in Terrorism Trials: Implications for State and Federal Prosecutors

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2008
165 pages
This study examined the courtroom processes and legal strategies used by Federal prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys for cases that involved an official terrorism investigation for the period 1980-2004, which consisted of just over 700 defendants indicted for 9,633 violations of Federal criminal law.
The study found that the more politicized the prosecution strategy (tying the defendant's ideological motivation to the elements of the case), the more likely the case would go to trial and the more likely it was to result in acquittal or dismissal. The most explicitly politicized prosecution strategies doubled the likelihood of acquittal and dismissal. Treating terrorist defendants like traditional offenders, on the other hand, resulted in the highest plea and conviction rates. Highly politicized defense strategies (portraying the government's pursuit of terrorist defendants as a political "witch hunt") was associated with an increase in the likelihood of conviction. In addition to obtaining data from the American Terrorism Study, which includes a statistical database of Federal indictments resulting from official FBI terrorism investigations for 1980-2004, data were collected from Federal court case records and other open sources, such as newspaper accounts of the trials. A former Assistant U.S. Attorney was the subject matter expert in identifying important pleadings, motions, and other key events that occurred in the trials. A total of 140 new variables were created in measuring these factors. Among the new variables were those that track information about the type of defense attorney used. The database included variables that measured whether the defendant received bail, and if not, the reason bail was denied. One set of variables tracked whether a superseding indictment was filed in each case. Another set of variables tracked the number of counts added or dropped from the original indictment. 40 tables, 46 references, and 9 appendixes with supplementary data

Date Published: December 1, 2008