Prosecutorial discretion: An examination of substantial assistance departures in federal crack-cocaine and powder-cocaine cases

Richard D. Hartley, Sean Maddan, Cassia Spohn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

76 Scopus citations


Recently there has been a call for research that explores decision-making at stages prior to sentencing in the criminal justice process. Particularly research is needed under a determinate sentencing system where judicial dispositions are usually restricted by guidelines, which increases the importance of earlier decision-making stages. As an answer to this call, and in an attempt to build on currents studies on the effects of departures as an intervening mechanism, and a source of unwarranted disparity, this study explores federal sentencing data on offenders convicted of crack-cocaine and powder-cocaine offenses. Although decision-making of all criminal justice actors generally, and prosecutors specifically, has been the subject of much research, studies have yet to resolve the nature and outcome of their "autonomous" discretion. This autonomy becomes especially salient regarding prosecutorial decisions for substantial assistance departures. In deciding who receives a substantial assistance departure, the prosecutor has carte blanche power.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)382-407
Number of pages26
JournalJustice Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2007



  • Crack-cocaine
  • Federal
  • Powder-cocaine
  • Prosecutorial discretion
  • Substantial assistance departures

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law

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