Sexual Assault Case Outcomes: Disentangling the Overlapping Decisions of Police and Prosecutors

Cassia Spohn, Katharine Tellis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


The rape reform movement of the 1970s and 1980s was designed to improve the likelihood of prosecution and conviction in sexual assault cases. However, there is evidence that the attrition rate for sexual assaults reported to the police remains high, and that the locus of case attrition is arresting and charging decisions. In this paper, we analyze police and prosecutorial decision-making in sexual assault cases using quantitative data on sexual assaults reported to the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in 2008. We argue that decisions made by police and prosecutors should not be examined in isolation from one another and that researchers who analyze arrest decisions by examining only cases that are formally cleared by arrest or who focus only on charging decisions that follow the arrest of a suspect may be ignoring important aspects of police and prosecutorial decision-making. This is confirmed by the results of our study, which reveal that a significant proportion of cases in which the police appear to have probable cause to make an arrest do not result in the arrest of the suspect and that a substantial number of cases are rejected for prosecution by the district attorney before an arrest is made. Moreover, the factors that predict arrest and charging vary depending upon the way in which the outcome is operationally defined. These results have a number of important policy implications for police and prosecutors handling sexual assault cases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-411
Number of pages29
JournalJustice Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 16 2019


  • police and prosecutor decision making
  • sexual assault case outcomes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


Dive into the research topics of 'Sexual Assault Case Outcomes: Disentangling the Overlapping Decisions of Police and Prosecutors'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this