New dataset on prosecutorial discretion

Supreme Court

Examining Prosecutorial Decision-Making Across Federal District Courts, 2000-2009 [UNITED STATES] (ICPSR 34513)“. Info:

The study used data from the cohorts of federal defendants arrested and prosecuted in federal court from the Federal Justice Statistics Resource Program (FJSRP). It began by linking a cohort of federal bookings and arrests from the 2003-2005 United States Marshall’s Service (USMS) data to the Executive Office of United States Courts (EOUSC) records from 2000-2009. It then separately analyzed the cohort of defendants charged in District Court from the 2003-2006 Administrative Office of United States Courts (AOUSC) data linked to the (United States Sentencing Commission Data) USSC data from 2000-2009. The datasets were linked together using dyadic linking files, which are data files created by researchers at the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) that consist of unique identifiers that tie offenders in one dataset to offenders in a dataset from an adjacent stage of federal case processing. In addition to the FJSRP data, additional data were collected on the social, political and demographic contexts of United States District Courts.

The various data sources used in the study are briefly reviewed as follows:

United States Marshall’s Service (USMS)

Data on federal arrests and bookings came from the USMS. Offenders arrested and booked for violations of federal law were transferred to the custody of the USMS for processing, transportation, and detention. Their Prisoner Tracking System (PTS) collected basic data for all offenders under their custody, which include demographic characteristics, offense data, and information about the arresting agency. The data provided unique information on the categorization of the offense at initial arrest but they lacked information on offender ethnicity. Both citizenship and race of the offender were included in the data, however. The USMS data were therefore useful for identifying certain basic offender characteristics and also for examining potential differences in case processing across different federal law enforcement agencies.

Executive Office of United States Courts (EOUSC)

The EOUSC is an administrative office that provides executive assistance and supervision to all United States Attorneys’ offices, coordinating services such as information technology, legal training and support staff. Data from the EOUSC came from the National LIONS System files, which contain information on the investigation and prosecution of suspects in federal criminal matters received and terminated during the study period. These data included suspects in criminal matters as well as criminal cases, which means they included cases handled by United States District Magistrates as well as those filed in District Court. These data were constructed from the Executive Office’s Central System file and accounted for approximately 95 percent of all prosecutions handled by the Department of Justice. Unique information was available in the EOUSC data regarding such things as stated reasons for case declinations but these data did not contain demographic information for individual offenders nor did they provide detailed records regarding changes in charges from case filing to termination.

Administrative Office of United States Courts (AOUSC)

The AOUSC data contain information about the criminal proceedings against defendants whose cases were filed and terminated in United States District Court during the study period. The data came from the AOUSC’s Criminal Master Files and include data for each defendant in each case filed and concluded. Included in the records were data from court proceedings that incorporate offense codes for up to five offenses charged at the time of filing and at termination. Charges at filing may differ from termination due to plea bargaining or the actions of the judge or jury. In cases with multiple charges, the most serious charge was determined by a hierarchy of offenses based on statutory maximum penalties associated with each charge. These data provided detailed information regarding the number, severity and type of charges brought in each case, but they lacked demographic information for individual defendants.

United States Sentencing Data (USSC)

Data on criminal sentences were obtained from the USSC, an independent administrative agency that develops and monitors sentencing policy in the federal system. These data contained detailed records of criminal defendants sentenced under the federal sentencing guidelines during the study period. The data came from the USSC Office of Policy Analysis (OPA) Standardized Research Data File, which included variables from the Monitoring Department’s database. Sentencing records for convicted offenders were furnished to the USSC by United States district courts and United States magistrates. These data are unusually detailed, including information from the Judgment and Conviction order submitted by the court as well as from the Presentencing Report and the Statement of Reasons summarizing the sentencing hearing. Detailed offense level, guidelines calculation, and offender demographic information were included in the USSC data; however, they did not contain any information on the charging processes and outcomes that precede sentencing.

Linking Files

These files included unique identifiers that track federal offenders across federal agencies – they are agency-based dyadic files, designed to link adjacent stages of federal case processing. The system allows researchers to track individual defendant-cases through sequential stages of criminal case processing in the federal justice system.

Court Context Data

The project augmented the individual offender data with aggregate data on the social environments of federal courts. These district-level data were then merged with the individual offender data to examine variations in case processing outcomes across federal court contexts. Data on federal court contexts came from a variety of sources, including Fedstats, the United States Census, and the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR). These measures are designed to capture the structural context of federal courts, their organizational environments, and their surrounding community characteristics as elaborate in greater detail below.

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