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Gender and Prosecutorial Discretion: An Empirical Assessment

Journal Title Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory
Published Date May 16, 2020
Research Topic
Research Type


This article contributes to our understanding of the role of gender in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion. We use administrative data from a prosecutor’s office in a large urban county to estimate the direct and interactive effects of defendant and prosecutor gender on accepting initial charges brought by law enforcement officials. After implementing coarsened exact matching, Probit regression results suggest that prosecutors, on average, are more likely to accept charges against male defendants. In scenarios where gender is salient to decision making (i.e., in domestic violence and sexual assault cases), we find mixed evidence regarding whether female prosecutors make decisions differently than male prosecutors, as predicted by the theory of representative bureaucracy. Finally, we find that female prosecutors with higher levels of prosecutorial experience are more likely to accept domestic violence and sexual assault charges against male defendants than both their male counterparts and female prosecutors with limited experience. Our results suggest that female prosecutors reserve their discretion for complex scenarios where organizational routines are less set in stone. Furthermore, female prosecutors with more experience may be more able to identify these scenarios, and are thus more likely to actively represent.