Sexual Assault Charging Decisions in Three Jurisdictions: Does a Specialized Charging Unit Make a Difference?

Cassia Spohn, University of Nebraska at Omaha

During the past two decades, a number of jurisdictions have established specialized units for the prosecution of sexual assault cases. This reform was motivated by a belief that some types of cases are more difficult to prosecute, coupled with a belief that prosecutors assigned to specialized units will handle cases more effectively and treat victims more sympathetically. This paper tests these assumptions. We compare sexual assault case outcomes in one jurisdiction (Dade County, Florida) without a specialized unit for prosecuting sexual assaults involving adults, one jurisdiction (Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania) with a specialized unit that receives cases after a charging decision has been made, and one jurisdiction (Jackson County, Missouri) with a specialized unit that makes the decision to charge and uses vertical prosecution from screening through disposition. We compare case outcomes to determine if there are variations in the likelihood of charging or the criteria used in making the decision to charge or not.

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Updated 05/20/2006