its infancy (Johnson, 2014; Johnson & Lee, 2013; Ulmer et al., 2007). Existing studies on prosecu-
tion largely focus on felonies and serious offenders (Albonetti, 1986; Spohn & Holleran, 2001;
Spohn et al., 2014). A smaller body of scholarship has examined misdemeanor cases
(Kohler-Hausmann, 2018; Natapoff, 2011, 2015; Roberts, 2013), yet misdemeanors constitute the
bulk of criminal caseloads (Worden & Clark, 2019). Prosecutorial discretion is particularly vast
and unregulated for lower-level offenses (Stevenson & Mayson, 2018).
Most prosecutors’offices cannot handle all referred cases (Brown, 2012), so several mecha-
nisms for streamlining case processing have evolved. One common method to expedite case dis-
pensation is plea bargaining, which reduces the burden of taking every case to trial; 95% of cases
are disposed of through guilty pleas (Devers, 2011). Other mechanisms focus on caseload man-
agement rather than expedition (Ostrom & Hanson, 1999; Ostrom et al., 2018). Refusal to file
charges, diversion, and post-filing case dismissal are vital instruments that prosecutorial offices
can use to dispose of cases efficiently, manage their workloads, and prioritize more serious
One understudied area in which prosecutors exercise discretion is in dealing with minor traffic
offenses, such as Driving with a Suspended License (DWSL). Most DWSL cases referred by law
enforcement do not involve traffic accidents and only 7% of all traffic accidents resulting in fatalities
involve a person with an invalid or suspended driver’s license (Carnegie & Eger, 2009). Furthermore,
a nontrivial percentage of suspended licenses that subsequently result in DWSL charges are due to
minor traffic infractions, failure to pay child support, or other administrative infractions (Pawasarat &
Stetzer, 1998). Carnegie and Eger’s report showed 36% of instances in which a person had their
license suspended were due to non-driving related civil infractions including unpaid fines.
Moreover, only 3.4% of drivers who had their license suspended one or more times were involved
in traffic accidents during a suspension period. These statistics indicate that in many cases, DWSL
charges are a signal of indigence rather than of dangerous driving habits (Carnegie & Eger,
2009). In this context, prosecutors can use rejection, diversion, and dismissal after the defendant
obtains a valid license to reduce DWSL caseload, thus alleviating the number low-income defendants
entering the legal system.
Despite the low risk of traffic accidents posed by defendants charged with DWSL, the penalties
for these charges can be significant.
DWSL charges carry collateral consequences for defendants
including potential loss of employment due to an inability to drive, loss of public housing, and sub-
sequent financial hardships (Brady, 2018; Corkrey, 2003). Given that traffic stops are the most
common form of law enforcement and legal contact and yet remain vastly understudied (Davis et
al., 2018), examining the connection between prosecutorial attitudes toward case elimination and
decision making in DWSL cases is important for both prosecutors and DWSL defendants. In
Florida, public transportation in large cities is poor compared to other urban centers. There is evi-
dence that low-income individuals in Florida who do not have access to adequate public transporta-
tion experience negative health outcomes (Daley et al., 2011) and those who have their licenses
suspended have difficulty finding and maintaining employment (Pawasarat & Stetzer, 1998).
Thus, prosecutorial policy has far-reaching effects beyond leading to criminal records. Low-level
offenses far outnumber more serious crimes which necessitates more attention that has largely
been paid to felonies (Kohler-Hausmann, 2018).
Using interview and administrative data collected from a mid-sized urban State Attorney’sOffice
in Florida, this study first assesses prosecutorial attitudes about case elimination mechanisms
rejection at filing, dismissal, and diversion—and then evaluates the extent to which views about
their role in criminal case processing, how to handle DWSL cases, and racial and ethnic disparities
are reflective of actual case processing outcomes. Finally, using a multinomial logistic regression
model, the current study assesses extralegal disparities for these decision points and compares
these results to interview responses.
244 Criminal Justice Review 47(2)