What is Case Attrition?

What is Case Attrition?

Monday, March 08, 2021

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Prosecutor & Police Relations

Case attrition refers to the number of arrests that result in no conviction or conviction resulting from reduced charges. Case attrition is a problem prevalent throughout the US criminal justices system with research showing that most instances of prosecution failure result from poor relationships between police and prosecutors. These poor relations have the propensity to increase evidence problems for cases such as police not knowing what is needed for conviction or prosecutors missing case details key to conviction.

Systemic lack of communication prevalent in the police and prosecutors’ offices occurs from poor attitudes concerning jobs. In a study of 25 police departments, findings revealed police view their job as arresting the criminals and prosecutors view their jobs as getting convictions, and while the connection of these views appears obvious, often little or poor communication between prosecutors and police led to increased case attrition (Petersilia, Abrahamse & Wilson, 1990).

The causes of case attrition may largely result from poor communications between police and prosecutors, but more complex and causes underlie this phenomenon. For instance, studies of rape case attrition discovered,:

…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 rates are severely impacted by biases and prejudices found in the criminal justice system, which explains 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 case attrition's causes root in a variety of underlying forces such as bias and not just poor communications. Case attrition impacts the criminal justice system by creating inefficiencies in the process, but more importantly, justice fails. If criminals are never convicted or given deals based on lack of evidence than the system fails to ensure fair and equal treatment.


Artz. & Smythe (2007). Case attrition in rape cases: a comparative analysis. Retrieved from https://open.uct.ac.za/bitstream/handle/11427/27655/Artz_Article_2007.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

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.

Article Updated: 11/10/2021


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

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