The Veil of Prosecutorial Discretion: a Study of Alabama Prosecutors and Felony Plea Bargains
This thesis studied the existence of sentencing disparities in Class A, B, and C felony pleabargains across the State of Alabama. The different avenues of prosecutorial discretion were examined, including charge and sentence bargaining, trial discretion, and sentencing recommendations. A qualitative method was conducted through a series of elite interviews with current and former Alabama prosecutors. These interviews contextualized data by providing perspectives on internal accountability systems, office wide discretionary policies, and the possibility for racial and gender bias within the criminal justice system. The quantitative analysis of this project considered eight Alabama counties of varying sizes and demographics. Class A, B, and C felony plea bargains from those counties were collected across a three year period. The sentences were then normalized across crime types. The data was measured for the effects of racial and gender bias, controlling for exacerbating and mitigating sentencing factors, habitual offender status, and the race and gender of prosecutor. The findings indicate gender and race influence sentencing and support the position that bias is a factor in criminal sentencing. Further testing is warranted to determine how disparate treatment in charge reductions can affect plea bargains. Additionally, as many of the coefficients regarding race were in the opposite direction of the proposed hypotheses, more study is necessary to determine how bias has an effect on felony sentencing.