skip navigation


Register for Latest Research

Stay Informed
Register with NCJRS to receive NCJRS's biweekly e-newsletter JUSTINFO and additional periodic emails from NCJRS and the NCJRS federal sponsors that highlight the latest research published or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs.

NCJRS Abstract

The document referenced below is part of the NCJRS Virtual Library collection. To conduct further searches of the collection, visit the Virtual Library. See the Obtain Documents page for direction on how to access resources online, via mail, through interlibrary loans, or in a local library.


NCJ Number: 76948 Find in a Library
Title: Sentence Disparity in Virginia by Court Setting
Author(s): K Taylor
Corporate Author: Virginia Dept of Corrections
Research and Reporting Unit
United States of America
Date Published: 1980
Page Count: 31
Sponsoring Agency: National Institute of Justice/
Rockville, MD 20849
Virginia Dept of Corrections
Richmond, VA 23230
Sale Source: National Institute of Justice/
NCJRS paper reproduction
Box 6000, Dept F
Rockville, MD 20849
United States of America
Document: PDF
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This study analyzed sentencing practices in Virginia's 138 circuit courts, using data on 9,078 felons committed during the 3-year period of 1977 through 1979.
Abstract: Research studies on sentencing disparity have attributed it to the wide range of latitude given to judges by the law, as well as race, plea bargaining, and characteristics of individual communities. Sentencing by jury which is allowed in some States for noncapital offenses also contributes to these differences. This project used population figures to categorize court localities as metropolitan areas, small cities, and counties. Virginia groups felonies into six classes according to seriousness of the crime. For example, first degree murder is a Class 1 offense and has a sentence of life imprisonment or death, while involuntary manslaughter, petty larceny, and concealed weapons are all Class 6 crimes having a sentence range of 1 to 5 years. Since there were no Class 1 felonies during the study period, research was restricted to Class 2 through 6 and sentences associated with the most serious offenses at time of commitment. The distribution of offenses among the courts and its relation to their populations were assessed first, followed by an examination of the sentences imposed for different offense classes by the various courts. Also reviewed were commitments with greater than average sentences, the correlation between average sentence and the maximum authorized punishment, and sentences for specific offenses. Analysis of the data showed that metropolitan courts committed more than their share of Class 2 felony offenders but tended to set comparatively low sentences for the more serious felonies and higher sentences for the less serious crimes. Small cities committed a disproportionately larger number of offenders than would be expected from their population and gave more above average sentences. They also imposed the longest sentences for robbery, a Class 2 offense, and for all Class 3 offenses including burglary. Commitments from county courts were fewer than would be expected from their populations. They tended to give shorter sentences, with the exception of Class 2 felonies and grand larceny, a class 3 crime. Overall, more serious offenses were punished by sentences which were less than the law allows, while less serious offenses received sentences that were closer to the maximum penalty permitted by law. Recommendations regarding Virginia's data collection system are offered. The appendixes contain a list of the courts surveyed by population categories, a felony classification chart, statistical tables summarizing data on offenses and sentences, and 10 references.
Index Term(s): County courts; Municipal courts; Sentencing disparity; State courts; Virginia
To cite this abstract, use the following link:

*A link to the full-text document is provided whenever possible. For documents not available online, a link to the publisher's website is provided. Tell us how you use the NCJRS Library and Abstracts Database - send us your feedback.