It has long been postulated that America’s mass incarceration phenomenon is driven by increased drug arrests, draconian sentencing, and the growth of the prison industry. Yet among the major players—legislators, judges, police, and prosecutors—one of these is shrouded in mystery. While laws on the books, judicial sentencing, and police arrests are all public and transparent, prosecutorial charging decisions are made behind closed doors with little oversight or public accountability. Indeed, without notice by commentators, during the last ten years or more, crime has fallen, and police have cut arrests accordingly, but prosecutors have actually increased the ratio of criminal court filings per arrest. Why? This Article presents quantitative and qualitative data from the first randomized controlled experiment studying how prosecutors nationally decide whether to charge a defendant. We find rampant variation and multiple charges for a single crime along with the lowest rates of declination in a national study. Crosscutting this empirical analysis is an exploration of Supreme Court and prosecutor standards that help guide prosecutorial decisions. This novel approach makes important discoveries about prosecutorial charging that are critical to understanding mass incarceration.
|Original language||English (US)|
|Number of pages||68|
|Journal||Southern California Law Review|
|State||Published - 2021|
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