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Case evidence and situational arrest characteristics are widely speculated to influence courtroom actor decisions, yet such measures are infrequently included in research. Using new data on felony cocaine cases from an urban county in a Southern non-guideline state, this study examines how physical evidence and arrest circumstances affect three stages of case processing: initial charge type, charge reduction, and sentence length. The influence of evidence appeared strongest at the early stage when prosecutors chose the appropriate charge, though certain evidentiary and arrest measures continued to influence later decisions. Charge reductions were driven mostly by legal factors, and while guilt should be established prior to sentencing, we still observed some key associations between evidence and arrest circumstances and sentence length. Results suggest that the effect of evidence and arrest circumstances depends greatly upon the type of evidence and stage being studied. Study findings are discussed in the context of extant theory and suggested future research on criminal case processing.

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Copyright 2020 by the journal of Criminology, Criminal Justice, Law & Society (CCJLS) and The Western Society of Criminology. Used by permission.