Misdemeanor Prosecution

102 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2021 Last revised: 28 Aug 2022

See all articles by Amanda Agan

Amanda Agan

Rutgers University, New Brunswick - Department of Economics

Jennifer L. Doleac

Arnold Ventures

Anna Harvey

New York University Department of Politics

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: August 26, 2022


Communities across the United States are reconsidering the public safety benefits of prosecuting nonviolent misdemeanor offenses, yet there is 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 be prosecuted 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 a 53% reduction in the likelihood of a new criminal complaint, and to a 60% reduction in the number of new criminal complaints, over the next two years. These local average treatment effects are largest for defendants without prior criminal records, suggesting that averting criminal record acquisition is an important mechanism driving our findings. We also present evidence that a recent policy change in Suffolk County imposing a presumption of nonprosecution for nonviolent misdemeanor offenses had similar beneficial effects, decreasing the likelihood of subsequent criminal justice involvement.

Keywords: crime, prosecution, recidivism

Suggested Citation

Agan, Amanda and Doleac, Jennifer L. and Harvey, Anna, Misdemeanor Prosecution (August 26, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3814854 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3814854

Amanda Agan

Rutgers University, New Brunswick - Department of Economics ( email )

New Brunswick, NJ
United States

Jennifer L. Doleac (Contact Author)

Arnold Ventures ( email )

1717 West Loop South
Suite 1800
Houston, TX 77027
United States

Anna Harvey

New York University Department of Politics ( email )

19 W. 4th St.
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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