U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Examining Prosecutorial Discretion in Federal Criminal Cases: Legal and Extra-Legal Determinants of Declination and Charge Change Decisions

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 35 Issue: 7 Dated: 2018 Pages: 1195-1225
Richard D. Hartley; Rob Tillyer
Date Published
31 pages

This study examined prosecutorial decisions to decline to charge federal arrestees and to make any changes to the charge from the arresting offense.


From 2000 to 2010, the federal criminal caseload increased approximately 50 percent, with a large portion of this increase attributed to the rise in immigration prosecutions. These changes, coupled with recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions rendering the guidelines advisory, have renewed calls for research that examines prosecutorial discretion, particularly regarding the influence of legal and extralegal factors on charging and bargaining decisions. The current study used data (2002-2010) from the Federal Justice Statistics Program database housed within the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data (NACJD). Results from the multilevel, multivariate models reveal that both extra-legal and legal factors influenced these decisions. Disaggregated models also revealed considerable variation across offense types. Finally, districts with higher caseloads had lower odds of a prosecutorial declination and charge change. (publisher abstract modified)