Phase 3: Findings From
Case File Reviews
In the study's third phase, the criminal justice
system's response to parental abduction
was further examined through a review
of individual case files in three of the
jurisdictions visited during the study's second
phaseHudson, Pima, and San Diego
Counties. Individual case tracking produced
important findings on the processing
of parental abduction cases through
the criminal justice system and on case
characteristics and their influence on case
outcomes. It also corroborated many of
the findings of the study's site visits.
Conducted in 1995, data collection
involved abstracting information from
existing paper and computer files in the
sites' law enforcement agencies and prosecutors'
offices. The final sample included
80 cases in Hudson County (62 from the
Sheriff's Office and 18 from the prosecuting
attorney's office), 96 cases in San
Diego County (all from the District Attorney's
Office), and 94 cases in Pima
County (80 from the Tucson Police Department
and 14 from the county attorney's
Figures 1–3 provide an overview of the
characteristics and processing of these
cases in the three jurisdictions. Researchers
considered various characteristics to
determine whether they were associated
with the response to and outcomes of
parental abduction casesspecifically,
whether an arrest was made or arrest
warrant issued and whether charges
(felony or misdemeanor) were filed in
criminal court.5 Across all three sites,
74 complaints of parental abduction resulted
in arrests or the issuance of an
arrest warrant. Fifty of these complaints
resulted in the filing of felony and misdemeanor
Four of the twelve perpetrator characteristics
examined were found to be positively
associated with whether a case resulted
in an arrest. That is, cases with the
characteristic were more likely to result
in the perpetrator's arrest than cases
without it. These perpetrator characteristics
are listed below:
- Race/ethnicity. Perpetrators identified
as African American, Hispanic, or
"other" were more likely to be arrested
than white, non-Hispanic perpetrators.
- Criminal record. Perpetrators with at
least one prior arrest were more likely
to be arrested than perpetrators with
no prior arrests.
- Prior law enforcement incidents or
complaints between the perpetrator
and complainant. A prior complaint
involving law enforcement increased
the likelihood of arrest.
- History of drug and alcohol abuse.
Perpetrators with a history of drug and
alcohol abuse, regardless of the source
of that information, were more likely to
Nine complainant characteristics were
examined for their relationship with case
outcomes. Four complainant characteristics
were associated (either positively or
negatively) with arrests or the issuance of
an arrest warrant:
- Relationship to the child. Cases in
which child protective services was
the complainant were more likely to
result in the perpetrator's arrest.
- Criminal history. Cases in which the
complainant had a criminal record
were less likely to result in the perpetrator's
- History of domestic violence. Cases in
which the complainant had a history
of committing domestic violence were
less likely to result in the perpetrator's
- History of mental illness. Cases in
which there was an indication of the
complainant's past mental illness were
less likely to result in the perpetrator's
One perpetrator characteristic, prior law
enforcement incidents or complaints, was
found to be associated with the filing of
charges by prosecutors' offices. The complainant's
history of committing child
abuse was also associated with whether
charges were filed in criminal court.
None of the characteristics associated
with the abducted child (e.g., the number
of children involved in the incident or the
living situation of the child) was found to
be significantly related to case outcomes.
This may be attributable in part to the
fact that the majority (60 to 78 percent)
of cases in all three sites involved only
Six incident characteristics were examined
for association with case outcomes;
three were found to be significantly related
to arrests and arrest warrants:
The perpetrator was more likely to be
arrested or have an arrest warrant issued
if a weapon or force had been used, the
child had been returned, or the child had
been taken out of the jurisdiction during
the abduction incident.
- The use of a weapon or force.
- The return of the child to the left-behind
- The removal of the child from the
|Figure 1: Processing of Parental Abduction Cases in Hudson County, NJ
Note: The number of cases is given in parentheses. Also, percentages through the charges-filed level are based on 72 Sheriff's Office complaints.
After the charges-filed level, counts include charges filed from both municipal law enforcement and the Sheriff's Office (n=22). Accompanying percentages
are based on estimates of all complaints (n=113) from both municipal law enforcement agencies and the Sheriff's Office. Percentages have been rounded.
* This percentage is based on the estimated number of complaints received in municipal law enforcement agencies (n=41), using the ratio of filed
cases to complaints found in the Sheriff's Office.
|Figure 2: Processing of Parental Abduction Cases in San Diego County, CA
Note: The number of cases is given in parentheses. Percentages have been rounded.
|Figure 3: Processing of Parental Abduction Cases in Pima County, AZ
Note: The number of cases is given in parentheses. Also, percentages through the charges-filed level are based on 178 Tucson Police Department complaints. After the charges-filed level, counts include charges filed from both the Tucson Police Department and the Sheriff's Office (n=20).
Accompanying percentages are based on estimates of all complaints (n=209) from both the Tucson Police Department and the Sheriff's Office.
Percentages have been rounded.
* This percentage is based on the estimated number of complaints received in the Sheriff's Office (n=31), using the ratio of filed cases to complaints found in the police department.
|The Criminal Justice System's Response to Parental Abduction
Justice Bulletin December 2001