Date of Completion

Spring 5-1-2020

Thesis Advisor(s)

Kimberly R. Bergendahl; Matthew Singer

Honors Major

Political Science


American Politics | Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Law and Race | Law Enforcement and Corrections | Other Legal Studies


This thesis dissects prosecutor discretion for appointed and elected prosecutors after a “catalyst” event shifts public opinion. Previous studies have shown that elected prosecutors are more likely to use discretion favoring the opinion of the public than their appointed counterparts (Bandyopadhyay 2014, Nelson 2014, and Valenti 2011). Because elected prosecutors are more likely to follow public opinion, they should also be more likely to respond to the demands of the public than their appointed counterparts. In effect, elected prosecutors are expected to be more likely to exercise discretion in their charging and prosecuting. To test this, I use the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown as a “catalyst” event that highlights the social movement against police misconduct. I then collect data from policing shootings 14 years before the event up until the catalyst and from the catalyst event to the end of 2019. These cases are taken from districts under the jurisdiction of appointed States Attorney Gail P. Hardy of the Hartford Judicial District, Connecticut and elected District Attorney Rachael Rollins of Suffolk County, Massachusetts. I compare the number of cases, the circumstances behind each incident, the outcomes of each police shooing, and any similarities or differences between cases before and after the catalyst event. While there was an increase in cases involving police shootings in both jurisdictions after the catalyst event, there were no significant differences in the outcomes of cases after the catalyst in both jurisdictions. Prosecutions of officers involved in shootings remained extremely rare in both counties.