Factors predicting prosecution of child maltreatment cases


Journal Article (Academic article)

Objectives The purpose of the current study was to examine what case characteristics increased the likelihood of a child maltreatment case being prosecuted, and upon prosecution, of being convicted. Methods Data came from 406 criminal court case files from nine judicial districts in North Carolina. Using logistic regression, we examined how county-level and individual characteristics of arrests predicted the probability of prosecution, and for arrests that result in prosecution, the probability of conviction. Results Nearly two-fifths (39%) of individuals arrested for child maltreatment were also charged with a concurrent offense. Of those with a concurrent offense, 11% had a felony charge. Of those arrested, 40% were prosecuted on at least one charge. Two case characteristics, the presence of any concurrent non-child maltreatment charge or a concurrent felony non-child maltreatment charge, were positively associated being prosecuted on at least one charge. Prosecution for child maltreatment was less likely when there was a concurrent felony charge, when the defendant was the father or a non-parent (relative to the mother), and if the youngest child named was between ages 2–5, or 6–12 (relative to children < 2). Only 18% of cases had physical evidence available. Conviction on at least one charge was more likely when there was a concurrent felony non-child maltreatment charge. Conviction for a child maltreatment was less likely when: there was a concurrent non-child maltreatment felony charge, the defendant was not the parent or caregiver, and there was a CPS investigation or assessment for neglect within a 30 day window of the arrest relative to no investigation. Conclusions Prosecutors in child maltreatment cases weigh not only the admissibility of evidence in deciding whether to pursue prosecution, but also other case characteristics such as the age of the child victim, whether there is available evidence outside of victim testimony, and other concurrent crimes. The prosecutor may have a stronger case for concurrent non-child maltreatment crimes, and these will thus be more likely to result in conviction. This may also play a role in prosecutor decisions.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Eldred, LM; Gifford, E; McCutchan, SA; Sloan, FA

Published Date

  • 2016

Published In

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1873-7765