Prosecutorial Discretion and Plea Bargaining in Federal Criminal Courts in the United States, 1983-1990 (ICPSR 9844)

Principal Investigator(s): United States Sentencing Commission


The primary purpose of this data collection was to study whether prosecutorial behavior was affected by the implementation of federal criminal sentencing guidelines in 1987. Monthly time series data were constructed on a number of prosecutorial outcomes, representing either discrete decision steps in the processing of criminal cases or the characteristics of cases that passed through the system. Variables include disposition year and month, number of matters initiated, number of cases filed, declined, and dismissed, number of convictions by trial, by jury, and by bench trial, number of guilty pleas, ratio of guilty pleas to cases resolved, and ratio of trials to cases resolved. The collection also provides a series of dichotomous variables to assess the impact of various events on prosecutorial outcomes over time. These events include the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (effective November 1986), implementation of the sentencing guidelines (November 1987), Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 (November 1988), United States Supreme Court's decision in the Minstretta case affirming the constitutionality of the sentencing guidelines (January 1989), and Attorney General Thornburgh's memo outlining Justice Department policy on charging and prosecution (March 1989).

Access Notes

  • One or more data files in this study are set up in a non-standard format, such as card image format. Users may need help converting these files before they can be used for analysis.

  • The public-use data files in this collection are available for access by the general public. Access does not require affiliation with an ICPSR member institution.


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Study Description


U.S. Sentencing Commission. PROSECUTORIAL DISCRETION AND PLEA BARGAINING IN FEDERAL CRIMINAL COURTS IN THE UNITED STATES, 1983-1990. ICPSR version. Washington, DC: U.S. Sentencing Commission [producer], 1992. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2000.

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Export Citation:

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This study was funded by:

  • United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Bureau of Justice Statistics

Scope of Study

Subject Terms:    case dismissal, case processing, court cases, courts, disposition (legal), guilty pleas, plea negotiations, pleas, policies and procedures, prosecution, sentencing

Geographic Coverage:    United States

Time Period:   

  • 1983-07--1990-08

Universe:    All federal criminal cases from 1983 to 1990 contained in the Federal Probation Sentencing and Supervision Information System (FPSSIS) of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.

Data Type(s):    administrative records data

Data Collection Notes:

(1) The codebook for this collection also documents IMPACT OF SENTENCING GUIDELINES ON THE USE OF INCARCERATION IN FEDERAL CRIMINAL COURTS IN THE UNITED STATES, 1984-1990 (ICPSR 9845). (2) The codebook is provided as a Portable Document Format (PDF) file. The PDF file format was developed by Adobe Systems Incorporated and can be accessed using PDF reader software, such as the Adobe Acrobat Reader. Information on how to obtain a copy of the Acrobat Reader is provided through the ICPSR Website on the Internet.


Data Source:

(1) Docket and Reporting System data for fiscal years 1983-1986, and (2) Criminal Masterfile data with Auxiliary Event and and Charge files for fiscal years 1987-1990


Original ICPSR Release:   1993-04-09

Version History:

  • 2000-06-05 SAS and SPSS data definition statements and a PDF version of the codebook have been added to this collection.

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