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NCJ Number: 204095 Find in a Library
Title: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Sentencing Departures Across Modes of Conviction
Journal: Criminology  Volume:41  Issue:2  Dated:May 2003  Pages:449-490
Author(s): Brian D. Johnson
Date Published: May 2003
Page Count: 42
Type: Report (Study/Research)
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This study examined whether racial/ethnic and other extralegal disparities were conditioned by the mode of conviction (non-negotiated pleas, negotiated pleas, bench trials, and jury trials).
Abstract: Previous research had suggested that modes of conviction reflect the differential influence of the various members of the courtroom in the sentencing process. Little is known, however, about how racial, ethnic, and other extralegal disparities relate to the mode of conviction. Departures from sentencing guidelines offer an interesting measurement of how these extralegal factors are conditioned by the mode of conviction to influence sentencing decisions. Data from the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing (PCS) were analyzed for departures from sentencing guidelines during 1996 through 1998. Overall, 109,931 cases that were sentenced under the 1994 guidelines were analyzed and complimented with county-level data that offered information about the context in which sentencing decisions were made. The dependent variable was a three category variable distinguishing sentences that were downward departures from guidelines, the standard sentence, and upward departures from guidelines. Independent variables included four modes of conviction: non-negotiated plea, negotiated plea, bench trial, and jury trial. Other variables included the extralegal variables of race/ethnicity, age, and gender. Legal variables included the seriousness of the offense and prior criminal history. Control variables took into account county characteristics that may influence sentencing outcomes, such as percent Black and caseload. Results of statistical analyses reveal that when sentencing guidelines were departed from, the effects of legal variables, such as criminal history and offense severity were overshadowed by extralegal factors, such as mode of conviction and race/ethnicity. In particular, the mode of conviction was a powerful indicator of the differential exercise of discretion by courtroom actors in the sentencing process. In fact, mode of conviction may lead to the stereotypical patterned responses, which serves to moderate the effects of race/ethnicity and other sentencing factors. The results suggest that further research is needed to extrapolate how the roles of different courtroom actors contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in sentencing guidelines. Tables, references
Main Term(s): Sentencing disparity; Sentencing guidelines
Index Term(s): Pennsylvania; Plea negotiations; Race-punishment relationship; Sentencing factors; Sentencing trends
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