Making the Crime Fit the Penalty: The Role of Prosecutorial Discretion Under Mandatory Minimum Sentencing
This paper empirically documents one way in which prosecutorial discretion can be used to dampen the effects of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Specifically, I show prosecutors use their discretion over prosecution charges to circumvent a mandatory minimum sentencing law for some defendants, by prosecuting these de- fendants who were initially arrested for the crime targeted by the sentencing law for lesser crimes not covered by the law. I document the use of such discretion with respect to several state "three-strikes" type repeat offender laws imposed through- out the 1990s, where I find that prosecutors become significantly more likely to lower a defendant's prosecution charge to a misdemeanor when conviction for the initial felony arrest charge would likely lead to sentencing under a three-strikes law. Moreover, accounting for such behavior is important, as I show that failure to do so can lead to overstating the effects of these laws on average sentencing by almost thirty percent.
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