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Missing Link: Examining Prosecutorial Decision-Making Across Federal District Courts

NCJ Number
Date Published
Brian Johnson
Publication Type
Grant Report
This study used unique data on Federal criminal case processing in examining jurisdictional variations in prosecutorial decisionmaking outcomes for U.S. Attorneys.
Four conclusions were drawn from research findings. First, there was little systematic evidence of age, race, or gender disparities in U.S. Attorney’s decisions regarding which cases were accepted and which were declined for prosecution. The most common reason for declining to prosecute was weak or insufficient evidence. Second, there was some evidence of disparities in charge reduction; male defendants were less likely than female defendants to receive charge reductions; and Black and Hispanic defendants were slightly more likely than White defendants to receive charge reductions. Third, young male, minority defendants were both less likely to have their cases declined and less likely to receive charge reductions. Fourth, few of the district-level characteristics examined proved to be strongly related to jurisdictional variations in prosecutorial decisionmaking outcomes. The study recommends improving data collection efforts on Federal prosecutions, since the dearth of research on this issue reflects a lack of quality data on U.S. Attorneys’ decisionmaking processes and outcomes, as well as the social contexts in which these decisions are made. The current study linked information across multiple Federal agencies in order to track individual offenders across the various stages of the Federal justice system. It combined arrest information from the U.S. Marshall’s Services with charging information from the Executive Administrative Offices of the U.S. Attorney, and sentencing information from the U.S. Sentencing Commission. These individual data were then augmented with additional information on Federal courts in examining contextual variations in charging decisions across Federal jurisdictions. 18 tables and a bibliography of 145 listings
Date Created: March 26, 2014