Attrition in the United States

The reduction in the number of cases as they progress through the criminal process. Case attrition is a product of discretion as it is exercised at each step of the process. At each stage, some cases are dropped, others diverted, and some advanced to the next step. Attrition could be represented as liquid moving through a funnel with continually fewer cases remaining to progress all the way through to conviction and sentence. Department of Justice data show that felony case attrition is extremely high. Most attrition occurs at the early stages of the process. Many crimes are not reported, and of those reported, arrests take place in less than 20 percent of the cases. Additional drop-off occurs during prosecutorial review, with many cases either diverted to agencies outside the criminal process and others judged unsuitable for prosecution. Attrition of cases within the courts is somewhat more limited, particularly where prosecutors screen cases stringently prior to bringing charges.

See Also

Discretion (Criminal Process).

Analysis and Relevance

The attrition of criminal cases, especially those at the felony level, is extensive. The point at which attrition occurs varies by jurisdiction and differences in state law. Generally, however, attrition is explained through several factors or variables. Each of these reflect that the criminal process does not operate mechanically. Rather, it is highly subject to the exercise of discretion by those who have official roles. The first factor involves the substantive legal decisions that must be made on each case. A determination must be made as to whether there is sufficient evidence to establish the defendant’s guilt. Police, prosecutors, and judges may each apply different standards. Thus cases where police have probable cause to arrest may be rejected by prosecutors or judges at subsequent stages because the case is not sufficient for trial. Another factor is the priority assigned to particular crimes. As prosecutors deal with backlogged court dockets, they may determine, for example, that prosecution for the offense of writing an insufficient funds check has low priority. That is especially true if the victim has civil recourse. Adoption of priorities allows police and prosecutors to direct scarce resources to more serious cases. Finally, attrition is attributable to subjective personal standards of justice pursued by individual members of the courtroom workgroup.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Attrition from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Concept of Attrition in Labor Law

In this context, a definition of Attrition is offered here: Reduction in the labor force of a company through natural causes such as voluntary quits, retirement, or death as opposed to layoffs.

Attrition: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Attrition. This part provides references, in relation to Attrition, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Attrition by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Attrition and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Attrition or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Attrition and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Attrition. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Attrition should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Attrition when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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