Defounding & Justifications
Defounding is a optional approach commonly employed by criminal justice professionals to reduce the gravity of an crime through reclassification. The reasons defounding occurs vary, as does its impact on the victim. First, defounding may occur when there is insufficient evidence to support the original account of a crime. For instance, a police officer is dispatched to a “robbery” at a local convenience store, only to discover that a juvenile shoplifted a candy bar and immediately departed. The proper classification of the incident would be petty larceny (i.e., theft). Of course, the victim who reported the theft may have informed the dispatcher: “I was just robbed.” If the officer delicately explains the criminal law distinction, the victim may better appreciate the reasoning behind the defounding. Second, defounding may be used to reduce criminal charges. This form of “street plea-bargaining” occurs when the officer provides leniency to the offender (e.g., reducing the speed on a speeding ticket), without consultation with the prosecutor. This form of defounding is the result of offender cooperation and has little negative impact on the victim (i.e., state, county, etc.). Third, defounding may occur when police agencies manipulate crime statistics. For instance, if an agency wishes to demonstrate the success of a burglary prevention program, responding officers may reclassify (i.e., defound) the incident as “trespassing.” Victims suffer from this deceptive accounting method since valid burglary prevention measures may be hindered (e.g., a homeowner believes that burglary is no longer a problem and is lulled into a false sense of security). Fourth, defounding occurs when the prosecutor believes that reclassification of a crime will encourage a plea bargain or provide an easy conviction (e.g., reducing a rape charge to sexual assault). The difficulty arises when the victim is not consulted or disagrees with the defounding...
References: Burke, T. (2009). Defounding. In Janet K. Wilson (Ed.), The Praeger Handbook of Victimology, (pp. 76-77). Santa Barbara, California: Praeger.
McCleary R., Nienstedt, B. C. & Erven J. M. (1982). Uniform Crime Reports as Organizational Outcomes: Three Time Series Experiments,” Social Problems 29 (1982): 361-72
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