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Police Criminal Charging Decisions: An Examination of Post-Arrest Decision-Making

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 36 Issue: 4 Dated: August 2008 Pages: 307-315
Scott W. Phillips; Sean P. Varano
Date Published
August 2008
9 pages
Police officers in four police agencies in the same region of New York State provided structured responses to domestic-violence vignettes designed to identify the influence of organizational, situational, and individual variables on officers’ criminal charging decisions for each vignette.
The findings indicate that charging decisions were limited to a few criminal offenses that fit the circumstances in the vignettes. There was a statistically significant relationship between victim injury of any type and a misdemeanor-level assault charge. Minor injuries, such as bruises and contusions, however, were often classified as harassment rather than assault. There was also a significant association between an uncooperative offender and an officer’s decision to charge for misdemeanor assault, suggesting the tendency of officers to punish uncooperative offenders with more serious charges than might be warranted by the characteristics of the domestic violence. A surprising finding was that almost 20 percent of the officers did not bring a criminal-contempt charge in vignettes that involved violation of an order of protection. Findings also show that officers tended to combine serious criminal charges with a second or third less serious criminal charge. There was a significant negative relationship between the number of charges listed and more experienced officers and officers working in smaller agencies. The implications of this study for law enforcement policy and directions for future research are discussed. The dependent variable was the State penal code charge an officer listed if an arrest were made in response to conditions in given vignettes. Independent variables were injury, existence of an order of protection, victim’s arrest preference, and offender’s level of cooperation. 6 tables, 1 appendix and 58 references