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Prosecutorial Decisions in Adult Sexual Assault Cases: An Australian Study

NCJ Number
Denise Lievore
Date Published
82 pages
This report presents the methodology and findings of an Australian study that examined factors linked to prosecutorial decisions to proceed with, discontinue, or enter into charge negotiations in sexual assault cases.
The study used a sample of 141 case files that involved 148 victims and 152 defendants referred to prosecutors in 5 jurisdictions between 1999 and 2001. The statistical analysis of the case files was supplemented with interviews of 24 crown prosecutors who were experienced in prosecuting sexual assault cases. The study found that 38 percent of all sexual assault cases were discontinued, with 72 percent of these being discontinued prior to the filing of an indictment. Thirty-three percent of all cases were disposed with a guilty plea, with approximately half of the guilty pleas resulting from plea negotiations. Twenty-nine percent of the cases proceeded to trial, and 38 percent of these cases resulted in a guilty verdict. Cases were likely to proceed to trial or sentencing when the victim physically or verbally indicated nonconsent; the victim was injured; evidence linked the defendant to the assault; force was used; the assault was severe; the defendant was a stranger; and the defendant was non-Caucasian. The interaction between nonconsent and the use of force was the key factor in predicting whether the prosecutor would proceed with or discontinue a sexual assault case. The findings indicate that existing prosecution policies and guidelines provide a safeguard against the biased use of discretion in sexual assault cases. The importance of the defendant being a stranger to the victim in determining the prosecutor's decision to proceed with a case suggests that "acquaintance rapes" are less likely to be pursued because of the difficulty of proving nonconsent. Still, almost half of the cases discontinued were due to the victim's reluctance to cooperate with the prosecution. Extensive tables and figures and 100 references