What is Case Attrition?

Prosecutor & Police Relations

What is Case Attrition?

Case attrition refers to the number of arrests that result in no conviction or conviction resulting from reduced charges. Case attrition is a problem that is prevalent throughout the US criminal justices system. Research into case attrition shows that most instances of failure to prosecute is the result of poor relationships between police and prosecutors (Petersilia, Abrahamse & Wilson, 1990). These poor relations have the propensity to increase evidence problems for cases. This problem is systemic of attitudes which are prevalent in the police and prosecutors’ offices. In a study of 25 police departments, it was found that police view their job as arresting the criminals and prosecutors view their jobs as getting convictions (Petersilia, Abrahamse & Wilson, 1990). While it would seem obvious that both these views are connected, there is little communication between prosecutors and police with regard to making more qualitative arrests.

The causes of case attrition may be largely the result of poor communications between police and prosecutors, but there are more complex and underlying causes for this phenomenon. For instance, in studies of rape case attrition, it was found that:

…police officers and prosecutors become particularly skeptical of rape victims when their stories do not coincide with what Susan Estrich (1987) has called the ‘real rape’ template. As a result the credibility of rape victims is questioned. Temkin (1999) similarly found that the police and prosecution service still held a culture that anticipates high levels of false reporting and that the majority of cases are ‘lost’ due to their designation as false allegations by the police or because of victims withdrawing their statements (Artz & Smythe, 2007).

Case attrition is severely impacted by biases and prejudices that may be present in the criminal justice system. This would explain why certain crimes have little to no significant attrition rates such as speeding tickets or burglary. In contrast, criminal cases involving minorities are prosecuted with far less rates of case attrition than cases involving whites. These statistics show that case attrition is more than likely caused by many underlying forces and not just poor communications. Case attrition impacts the criminal justice system by creating inefficiencies in the process but more importantly, justice is not served. If most criminals are never convicted than the system is not working the way that it should to ensure fair and equal treatment.


Artz. & Smythe (2007). case attrition in rape cases: a comparative analysis. Retrieved from http://www.ghjru.uct.ac.za/pdf/RapeAttritionArticle.pdf

Petersilia, J., Abrahamse, A., & Wilson, J. Q. (1990). The relationship between police practice, community characteristics, and case attrition. Policing and Society: An International Journal of Research and Policy, 1(1), 23–28.


Vincent Triola. Mon, Mar 08, 2021. What is Case Attrition? Retrieved from https://vincenttriola.com/blogs/ten-years-of-academic-writing/what-is-case-attrition