Communities across the United States are reconsidering the public safety benefits of prosecuting nonviolent misdemeanor offenses. So far there has been little empirical evidence to inform policy in this area. In this paper we report the first estimates of the causal effects of misdemeanor prosecution on defendants’ subsequent criminal justice involvement. We leverage the as-if random assignment of nonviolent misdemeanor cases to Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) who decide whether a case should move forward with prosecution in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts. These ADAs vary in the average leniency of their prosecution decisions. We find that, for the marginal defendant, nonprosecution of a nonviolent misdemeanor offense leads to large reductions in the likelihood of a new criminal complaint over the next two years. These local average treatment effects are largest for first-time defendants, suggesting that averting initial entry into the criminal justice system has the greatest benefits. We also present evidence that a recent policy change in Suffolk County imposing a presumption of nonprosecution for a set of nonviolent misdemeanor offenses had similar beneficial effects: the likelihood of future criminal justice involvement fell, with no apparent increase in local crime rates.
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— Read on www.nber.org/papers/w28600
From the VERA Institute
Misdemeanor cases make up over 80 percent of the cases processed by the U.S. criminal justice system, yet we know little about the causal impacts of misdemeanor prosecution. In this talk, we will report the first estimates of the causal effects of misdemeanor prosecution on defendants’ subsequent criminal justice involvement. To do this, we leverage the quasi-random assignment of nonviolent misdemeanor cases to arraigning assistant district attorneys in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts between 2004 and 2018. We find that the marginal prosecuted misdemeanor defendant has a substantially higher risk of being charged with a subsequent criminal complaint, of being prosecuted on that complaint, and of acquiring a criminal record of that complaint, within two years of their initial case. These effects appear to work through a longer time to case disposition, an increased likelihood of acquiring a criminal record of a misdemeanor complaint, and an increased likelihood of a misdemeanor conviction in the current case.
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