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The Anatomy of Discretion: An Analysis of Prosecutorial Decision Making
In the U.S. justice system, prosecuting attorneys have broad latitude in the decision making that influences criminal case outcomes. They play their pivotal role with little oversight from the public, the press, or members of the judiciary. While researchers have explored the correlation of specific factors to case outcomes, there has been scant examination of the processes prosecutors use to reach their decisions or what contextual factors influence their decision making, such as prosecutors’ characteristics, organizational constraints, and social context (relationships among participants in the courtroom workgroup, for example). Furthermore, there has been little research examining the influence of prosecutors’ conceptions of justice and fairness.
With support from the National Institute of Justice, the Vera Institute of Justice undertook research to better understand how prosecutors make decisions throughout the processing of a case. Vera’s study, conducted by Senior Research Associate Bruce Frederick and Don Stemen, assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Loyola University Chicago, sought to go beyond previous studies of prosecutorial decision making and conduct a study that would yield a more nuanced, comprehensive understanding of the process.
The resulting multimedia resource, titled The Anatomy of Discretion: An Analysis of Prosecutorial Decision Making, is now available online. It includes a technical report, a summary report, and four podcasts featuring scholars and practitioners in the justice system discussing the study’s ramifications for understanding how prosecutorial practice affects justice outcomes.
Read the reports and watch the podcasts