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21 Law & Soc'y Rev. 291 (1987-1988)
Prosecutorial Discretion: The Effects of Uncertainty

handle is hein.journals/lwsocrw21 and id is 291 raw text is: PROSECUTORIAL DISCRETION: THE
In this paper the author analyzes the exercise of prosecutorial
discretion to go forward with charges. The author examines the re-
lationship between sources of uncertainty in decision making and the
initial decision to begin the criminalization process. Organizational
theory bearing on uncertainty avoidance provides the perspective
guiding the analysis. The author uses a maximum likelihood proce-
dure to estimate the net effects on the probability of prosecution of a
set of variables measuring uncertainty emerging within the backdrop
of prosecutorial concern for obtaining a conviction at a jury trial.
In the past decade the behavior of agents of social control
has increasingly become the object of empirical study. In large
measure this research has focused on four decisions: the deci-
sion to arrest, the pretrial release decision, the decision to enter
a guilty plea, and the decision on sentence severity. There has
been relatively little attention to understanding the variables
that influence the initial decision to prosecute. The exercise of
this prosecutorial discretion remains invisible. It is this fre-
quently overlooked initial decision to paper or go forward1
with charges that is the object of my analysis. I shall propose
and test a theory of the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.
A. Prosecutorial Discretion
The present role of the American prosecutor is the product
of a complex combination of three cultural influences: the
French, the English, and the Dutch (Grosman, 1969; McDonald,
1979; Kress, 1976; Jacoby, 1980). Prior historical analyses
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 1984 Midwest Socio-
logical Association Meeting in Chicago. I am grateful to Jack Ladinsky, John
Hagan, and John Marcotte for their helpful comments and suggestions. This
research was funded by Grant 821J-CX-0051 from the National Institute of
Justice. I wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for their comments. Of
course, any errors are the responsibility of the author.
1 In the Superior Court of Washington, D.C., the terms to paper or go
forward with charges refers to the decision to prosecute.
LAW & SOCIETY REVIEW, Volume 21, Number 2 (1987)

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