The role of victim characteristics in the disposition of murder cases

Eric P. Baumer, Steven F. Messner, Richard B. Felson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


Using data from prosecutors’ files in a sample of 33 U.S. counties, we examine how victims’ conduct and victims’ demographic characteristics affect the disposition of murder cases at various stages of the criminal justice process. We find that victims’ age and past conduct do not significantly influence legal outcomes in murder cases, but their race, gender, and conduct at the time of the incident do so. Although these effects vary across the criminal justice decision-making stages considered, they generally are consistent with the claim that killings of disreputable or stigmatized victims tend to be treated more leniently. We also find some evidence that the effects of victim characteristics are stronger in jury proceedings than in bench proceedings, and that the influence of a victim’s race on the disposition of murder cases is conditioned by the racial composition of the county in which the case is processed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-307
Number of pages27
JournalJustice Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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