This report describes BJS’s efforts to determine whether it is possible to gather reliable national data on misdemeanor charges filed in state, county, and municipal courts—currently a substantial gap in criminal justice statistics. BJS undertook a feasibility study, focused on large metropolitan areas, to assess the availability and quality of case-level data on misdemeanor charges filed in state, county, and municipal courts. BJS will use the findings of this study to help determine whether a more extensive data collection would yield national estimates.
- Using the study’s definition of a misdemeanor (any offense that has a maximum sentence of incarceration between 1 day and 1 year in jail), 25 of the 27 cities maintain case-level data at a single source. Obtaining complete case-level data from two cities (Atlanta and Oklahoma City) required obtaining data from two different sources.
- Case-level data for 9 of the 27 cities are maintained at the state level.
- Data element availability varied widely. While a core set of variables (defendant date of birth, sex, race, and ethnicity; filing date and charges; and disposition date and type) are available in 20 of 27 cities, only 4 cities had any data on the defendant’s pretrial experience, including the pretrial release decision and date, pretrial detention days, pretrial supervision indicator, and an indicator of pretrial misconduct.
- Sixteen of 27 cities submitted datasets.
- Most defendant and case characteristics varied widely across the cities submitting data, with the notable exceptions of the defendant’s sex and age at case filing. Significant differences in charges filed, dispositions, and sentences are at least in part the result of which minor offenses are and are not jailable in a city.