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Effects of Detention on Judicial Decisions - A Closer Look

NCJ Number
Justice System Journal Volume: 5 Issue: 3 Dated: (Spring 1980) Pages: 234-257
J S Goldkamp
Date Published
24 pages
Varying research interpretations of the effects of pretrial detention because of high bail bond upon case dispositions are tested by analyzing case outcomes from a Philadelphia, Pa. sample of defendants.
One hypothesis contends that pretrial detention exerts a strong negative bias against the defendant's prospects at adjudication and sentencing. In sharp contrast, a second hypothesis characterizes the perceived relationship between pretrial custody and later judicial disposition as essentially spurious because of a strong relationship to a common antecedent (or variables). A representative sample of Philadelphia data was obtained that encompassed all defendants entering the judicial process from August 1 through November 2, 1975; and data concerning final case outcomes were obtained during March of 1977 to allow sufficient time for cases in the sample to reach their conclusion. The study of pretrial detention and case resolution relationships was divided into two components: final adjudication and sentencing. An exploration of the relationship between adjudication and custody through the use of six control variables in multiple regression showed no relationship between pretrial custody and pretrial diversion outcomes, which constituted 58 percent of case dispositions. When all defendants were considered in terms of dismissal or nondismissal of all charges, the rate of dismissals appeared to be unaffected by pretrial custody status. It was concluded that the relationship between adjudication and pretrial custody was spurious. It was also concluded that pretrial custody had no noticeable effect on a defendant's prospective innocence or guilt. In the second part of the study, it was concluded that pretrial detention may have negatively biased defendants' chances for nonincarcerative sentences. Also, a slight relationship with pretrial custody was discerned in analysis of sentence length. A discussion of the implications of the findings concludes that the relationship between pretrial custody status and later judicial outcomes may or may not exist or be spurious, depending on the kind of decision and the place of that decision in the criminal process. Footnotes and tables are provided.