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Understanding Prosecutorial Discretion In Florida Felony Courts

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2023
186 pages

This final report describes a study that sought to use quantitative and qualitative data to understand patterns in felony case processing outcomes across Black, White, and Hispanic defendants, and to identify the policies and practices that may be generating differences in case processing between jurisdictions.


This document reports on a research project that aimed to fill gaps in accessible data on how race and other indicators of social inequality affect the full course of case processing from initial filing to final disposition. The authors focused on four research questions: if similarly situated Black or Hispanic defendants receive more punitive outcomes than White defendants at each stage of the trial process, and do those disadvantages accumulate throughout the case process; if similar cases are processed differentially at each major case processing decision point between jurisdictions with progressive chief prosecutors relative to cases adjudicated by more traditional state attorneys; if case outcomes differ between Black, Hispanic, and White defendants at each major case processing decision point based on the racial diversity of court working groups; and what are the factors that might play a role in racially disparate outcomes. The research findings demonstrate that White and Hispanic defendants are generally sentenced similarly, and few meaningful differences were evident between those two groups. Results also revealed that Black defendants receive more punitive sentences than White defendants. The racial disparities in sentencing outcomes observed by the research team suggest that Florida’s structured sentencing system, the Criminal Punishment Code, has been unable to eliminate sentencing disparities.

Date Published: January 1, 2023