Funneled through or filtered out: An examination of police and prosecutorial decision-making in adult sexual assault cases.

Author(s): 
Wentz, E.A. (2020).
Source: 
Violence Against Women, Vol. 26(15-16) 1919–1940.
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Summary: 

This study examined 231 adult sexual assault incidents reported to the police to identify which factors predict congruence (agreement) between the police classification of crimes and prosecutorial charging decisions. The study found that the best predictor of both arrest and charging agreement was the collection of physical or forensic evidence from the scene of the offense.

Expanded Abstract: 

Research has illuminated that a very small proportion of sexual assault victims report the incident to police (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006). When victims do report, case attrition remains high at both the police and prosecutorial decision-making points (Alderden & Ullman, 2012).

This study examined 231 cases of adult sexual assault incidents reported to the police to identify which factors predict congruence (agreement or harmony; compatibility) between the police classification of crimes and prosecutorial charging decisions in adult sexual assault cases.

This study also examined whether the same case attributes that are predictive of arrest are also predictive of congruent charging decisions and arrest. The results supported the focal concerns perspective and suggests that the sentencing decisions of judges are based on three focal concerns that incorporate both legal and extralegal factors: (a) the blameworthiness of the offender, (b) the desire to protect the community, and (c) concerns about the social costs, or practical constraints and consequences, of their sentencing decisions (Steffensmeier et al., 1998). Holleran et al. (2010) extended the focal concerns perspective to the decision-making processes of the police and prosecutors in sexual assault cases. They argued that the focal concerns of the police and prosecutors are similar to those of judges; both are concerned with offense seriousness, the level of harm caused to the victim, and the blameworthiness of the offender.

This study found that the best predictor of both arrest and charging agreement was the collection of physical or forensic evidence from the scene of the offense.

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