U.S. flag

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

Race and Prosecution in Manhattan - Research Summary

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2014
10 pages

The methodology and findings are presented from a study of how the exercise of prosecutorial discretion at key points in case processing can contribute to racially and ethnically disparate outcomes in New York County.


Factors most directly relevant to the legal aspects of a case - such as charge seriousness, prior record, and offense type - best predicted case outcomes; however, race remained a statistically significant independent factor in most of the prosecutorial discretion point examined in this study. The study found that the District Attorney's Office of New York County (DANY) prosecutes nearly all cases brought by the police, with no noticeable racial or ethnic differences at case screening. For subsequent prosecutorial decisions, disparities varied by discretionary point and offense category. For all offenses combined, compared to similarly situated White defendants, Black and Latino defendants were more likely to be detained at arraignment, to receive a custodial sentence offer in plea bargaining, and to be incarcerated, but they were also more likely to have their cases dismissed; however, at arraignment, Blacks and Latinos charged with misdemeanor person offenses or misdemeanor drug offenses were more likely to be detained. Asian defendants had the most favorable outcomes across all prosecutorial discretionary points. The study concludes that conducting more thorough case screening and identifying cases that are likely to be dismissed at later stages of case processing may minimize unnecessary pretrial detention of such defendants. This should reduce the proportion of Blacks and Latinos who are given pretrial detention only to have their cases dismissed later. Race was not the strongest predictor of a custodial sentence. Other factors, such as prior record, offense type, defense counsel type, and charge seriousness were better predictors. Additional research is needed to explore factors related to plea bargain offers involving various types of offenses. 10 notes

Date Published: July 1, 2014