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Prosecutors' Charging Decisions in Sexual Assault Cases: A Multi-Site Study, Final Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
125 pages
This study examined prosecutors’ decisions to file charges in sexual assault cases in three large urban jurisdictions.
This study examined prosecutors’ charging decisions in sexual assault cases in three large urban jurisdictions. There were five main goals of this study. The first was to identify those factors that affected the charging decision in sexual assault cases. The second was to test the hypothesis that victim characteristics played a part in the decision to charge in simple rape cases. The third was to test the hypothesis that rapes involving strangers were evaluated based on legal factors while rapes involving acquaintances were evaluated on the basis of victim characteristics. The fourth was to examine prosecutor justifications for rejecting a charge in a rape case. The fifth goal was to examine the impact of a special unit for prosecuting sexual assault cases. In order to analyze these questions, the researcher gathered data on sexual assaults that resulted in an arrest from three jurisdictions: Kansas City, Missouri; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Miami, Florida. The resulting data file contained 259 cases in Kansas City, 267 cases in Philadelphia, and 140 cases in Miami. Results of statistical analyses show that prosecutors filed charges in just over half of the rape cases that resulted in an arrest. Prosecutors’ charging decisions were determined by a combination of victim characteristics and case details. Filing a charge was significantly more likely if the victim suffered an injury, if the suspect used a weapon, and if there was physical evidence. Filing a charge was also more likely to occur when the victim reported the crime promptly, if there were no questions about the victim’s moral character or behavior, if the suspect was Black and the victim was white, or if the victim was a young teenager. The results also revealed that the decision to file a charge was not impacted by the relationship between the victim and the suspect. According to prosecutors, when charges were not filed in rape cases, the decision was based upon the failure of the victim to appear for a pre-file interview, the victim’s refusal to cooperate with prosecutors, or the victim’s admission that the case was fabricated. References, tables, figures

Date Published: January 1, 2001