This study examines what case characteristics in North Carolina increased the likelihood of a child maltreatment case being prosecuted, and upon prosecution, of being convicted.
The reseachers find nearly 39 percent of individuals arrested for child maltreatment were also charged with a concurrent offense. Of those with a concurrent offense, 11 percent had a felony charge. Of those arrested, 40 percent were prosecuted on at least one charge. Two case characteristics, the presence of any concurrent non-child maltreatment charge or a concurrent felony non-child maltreatment charge, were positively associated being prosecuted on at least one charge.
Prosecution for child maltreatment was less likely when there was a concurrent felony charge, when the defendant was the father or a non-parent (relative to the mother), and if the youngest child named was between ages 2–5, or 6–12 (relative to children < 2). Only 18 percent of cases had physical evidence available. Conviction on at least one charge was more likely when there was a concurrent felony non-child maltreatment charge. Conviction for a child maltreatment was less likely 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.
The researchers conclude that prosecutors in child maltreatment cases weigh not only the admissibility of evidence in deciding whether to pursue prosecution, but also other case characteristics such as the age of the child victim, whether there is available evidence outside of victim testimony, and other concurrent crimes. The prosecutor may have a stronger case for concurrent non-child maltreatment crimes, and these will thus be more likely to result in conviction. This may also play a role in prosecutor decisions.