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Dropping In and Dropping Out: Judicial Decisionmaking in the Disposition of Felony Arrests

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 19 Issue: 1 Dated: (1991) Pages: 1-17
Date Published
17 pages
A sample of nearly 80,000 felony arrests recorded by the Los Angeles Prosecutor's Office was used to conduct a sequential analysis of judicial decisionmaking in their disposition from initial screening to final sentencing in the Superior Court. Disaggregating the stages of case processing led to an assessment of the overall criminal justice system.
The processing stages analyzed included screening, preliminary hearing, arraignment, guilty plea versus trial, and sentencing. Theoretical models of judicial decisionmaking were presented within the framework of the organizational perspective. The findings indicate that judges and prosecutors attempted to sort out cases with a low probability of conviction or involving less defendant criminality in the stages preceding conviction. After conviction, judges showed a greater willingness to impose severe sentences; the severity was influenced by the defendant's offense seriousness, uncooperativeness with the court, resistance to rehabilitation, or potential public threat. Interestingly, the findings indicate that minorities are more likely to be screened out in the earlier judicial stages, but more likely to receive severe sentences if they are eventually convicted. Female offenders are more likely than males to be dismissed in the preliminary and arraignment stages and to receive shorter sentences if convicted. 1 table, 5 notes, and 53 references (Author abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 1991