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Racial Disparities in Court Case Dismissals and Deferred Judgment in Denver

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Project Summary

In April 2021, the Colorado Lab released a report, Racial Disparities in Prosecutorial Outcomes, examining felony cases accepted for prosecution by the Denver District Attorney’s (DA) Office between July 2017 and June 2018. The study found that race and ethnicity were not associated with general plea offers extended. The study did find differences between White, Black, and Hispanic defendants across the other three points of prosecutorial discretion examined: dismissals, deferred judgments, and referrals to Drug Court.

The purpose of this follow-on project was to dig deeper into two points of prosecutorial discretion—dismissals of filed cases and deferred judgments for defendants—to examine whether the characteristics of defendants or the reasons for the dismissal or deferred judgment differed by defendant race/ethnicity. By digging deeper into dismissals and deferred judgments, the Denver DA’s Office sought to identify opportunities to inform ongoing improvement, including continued improvements to the intake process, criteria that can be used by DAs to inform decision-making, and systems to examine and learn from data.

The research team reviewed and abstracted information from each of the study samples’ individual case files and then ran descriptive statistics. The project published its findings in 2021: A Deeper Dive on Cases That Were Dismissed or Received Deferred Judgment by the Denver District Attorney’s Office in the City and County of Denver.

Steps to Building Evidence

This project used a descriptive analysis to assess whether prosecutorial decision-making differed by defendant race/ethnicity, which is Step 3 on the Steps to Building Evidence.

Summary of Findings

Overall, results did not show meaningful differences in the reasons why cases were dismissed by race/ethnicity. While few Black defendants received a deferred judgment, reasons for deferred judgments were similar for White, Black, and Hispanic defendants. 


This research-practitioner collaboration took a step toward improving prosecutorial transparency and identified opportunities for the Denver DA’s Office, including ongoing effort to:

  • Consider the criteria and rationale used to make decisions about dismissals and deferred judgments.
  • Support prosecutors with additional trainings and office discussions on issues such as implicit bias, understanding of systemic drivers that may be impacting DA decision making, such as structural factors like unequal access to education and employment that are associated with race/ethnicity, and diverse expressions around concepts of remorse and compliance that may not align with DAs’ expectations. 
  • Augment the case management system to more systematically collect data that can support ongoing case review, learning, and transparency.

The Denver DA’s Office also participated in a more recent analysis focused on the outcomes of prosecutorial decision making from January 2017 through the end of June 2022. The interactive report considers racial and ethnic disparities across the following two decision points: 1) dispositions (dismissal, deferred judgment, and plead/found guilty) for felony and misdemeanor offenses; and 2) charge reduction from filing to disposition for felony and misdemeanor cases. 

Get Involved

For more information about working with the Colorado Lab, see Government and Community Partnerships or Research Partnerships.