October 11, 2016 – Prosecution Rates of CAC-Coordinated Cases

Teresa HuizarGood morning and happy Tuesday.  I hope this finds you well after the holiday weekend.  This morning, I’d like to focus for a moment on the prosecution of child maltreatment cases.  I’m quite certain that each of you has, at some point, been asked whether there is a direct connection to be made between the work we do as CACs and MDTs and the prosecution of a child maltreatment case.  As you know, the complexity and intervening variables in these cases make it impossible to draw such a straight line, but the more we know about which cases are prosecuted and the outcomes of such cases, the stronger we can make that connection. 

In a study recently published in the Children and Youth Services Review, “Factors predicting prosecution of child maltreatment cases,” [1]  researchers sought to expand on identifying case characteristics affecting prosecution.  In particular, they addressed the following issues:
  • First, how common is prosecution and conviction on a charge of child maltreatment?
  • Second, what is the role of physical evidence and child witnesses in securing a conviction?
  • Third, … when there is a concurrent offense, was the defendant less likely to be prosecuted on the child maltreatment charge? And
  • Fourth, … when CPS is involved, are prosecution and conviction on a criminal charge of maltreatment less likely? Id., p. 202.
To address these questions, researchers examined court records and child protective services records for 406 cases involving child maltreatment and other criminal offenses from 2005 to 2013.  They found that “nearly two-fifths (39%) were also arrested on a concurrent charge and 11% were arrested on a concurrent felony charge.”  Id., p. 204.  Of these cases, “[f]orty percent of persons charged with child maltreatment were prosecuted for child maltreatment or a concurrent charge [and] 30% were prosecuted for the child maltreatment charge.”  Id., p. 203. 

Interestingly, the researchers found that “two case characteristics were positively associated with being prosecuted on at least one charge and were statistically significant:  (1) the presence of any concurrent non-child maltreatment charge, either misdemeanor or felony; and (2) current felony non-child maltreatment charge.”  Id., p. 204.  They also examined the link between CPS involvement and prosecution and conviction, and found that the “factors that were positively and significantly associated with a case being prosecuted on at least one offense was a prior CPS report > 30 days before the arrest date, a CPS investigation or assessment for abuse within a 30-day window from the arrest date, and arrests that occurred in counties with relatively high prosecution rates for child maltreatment cases, i.e., rates exceeding 40%.”  Id

Finally, the researchers also found that “the conviction was less likely to be for child maltreatment 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.”  Id.  In those cases, conviction was more likely to be for the other charge or charges than for child maltreatment. 

So what does all of this mean for CACs, MDTs and our MDT partners?  For one thing, it means that we, as team members, need to remember that “[c]hild maltreatment cases present a unique challenge for prosecutors.”  Id.  It means that prosecutors must assess those unique challenges in deciding whether to pursue prosecution – and among those challenges, they must consider the impact to the child from having to testify.  The findings from this study point to the fact that, in cases in which the prosecution can rely on non-child-related evidence and testimony, such as non-child maltreatment charges and/or physical evidence of abuse, they do. 

And the researchers address the policy implications of such decisions:  “[i]f the public policy goal is to increase prosecution and conviction of persons arrested for child maltreatment, attention to evidence collection procedures is warranted.”  Id., p. 205.  This is, of course, where CACs and MDTs come in, because our role in evidence collection is frequently the lynchpin to the case.  The researchers also note, though, that “if the goal is not to prosecute and convict specifically for child maltreatment, but rather to incapacitate the offender under any charged offense, it is logical, as our data suggest, for a prosecutor to pursue cases with clearer burdens of proof that do not require the trauma of having a child testify.”  Id

From our perspective, however, either goal implicates the work we do as CACs and MDTs.  The role that the MDT plays in working together ensures that prosecution, convictions and healing occur irrespective of which public policy position is the driving force. 

I urge you to download this article and read it in full, and to share it widely with your staff, your MDT partners and your prosecutors in particular.  And as always, I thank you for all your hard work and dedication and for all that you do on behalf of children and families.

Warm regards,  
[1] Full text of this publication may be found in the National Children's Advocacy Center's Child Abuse Library Online (CALiO ™) or by contacting the NCAC Research Digital Information Librarian. CALiO ™ is a service of the National Children's Advocacy Center (NCAC). | 516 C Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002 US

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