U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Prosecutorial Charging Decisions in Sexual Assault Cases: Examining the Impact of a Specialized Prosecution Unit

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Policy Review Volume: 16 Issue: 4 Dated: December 2005 Pages: 461-498
Date Published
December 2005
38 pages

This federally supported study examined prosecutorial charging decisions in sexual assault cases in the jurisdictions of Kansas City, MO, and Miami, FL, where specialized prosecution units are in place for sexual assault cases.


Legal scholars maintain that there are several advantages to processing sexual assault cases through a specialized prosecution unit. This study, supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice examined charging practices, case outcomes, sentencing philosophies, and predictors of charging in two jurisdictions that use different procedures for screening and prosecuting sex offenses. The Prosecuting Attorney for the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit of Missouri in Kansas City has a sex crimes unit that makes the decision to charge and uses vertical prosecution from screening through disposition. In contrast, the Dade County State’s Attorney’s Office in Miami, FL, has a specialized sex offense unit. It focuses almost exclusively on cases involving children. The study focused on sexual battery cases involving teenagers and adults. The study hypothesized that charging rates would be higher in Kansas City and that legally irrelevant victim characteristics would be less influential in predictions of charging in Kansas City. The findings of the study indicate that prosecutors’ charging decisions in Kansas City and Miami are nearly identical. Prosecutors filed charges in 57.5 percent of all sexual assault cases in Kansas City and in 58.6 percent of cases in Miami. The results confirm that prosecutors select cases with a high probability of conviction and reject charges in cases in which conviction is unlikely. Tables, appendix, and references

Date Published: December 1, 2005