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Comparative Sentencing: The Effect of Mandatory and Advisory Constraints on Judicial Decision-Making

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Awardee County
San Diego
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2006, $19,465)

The purpose of this dissertation proposal is to analyze how specific sentencing guideline systems that constrain judicial discretion affect sentencing outcomes and how changes in sentencing policies and schemes affect sentencing outcomes, case processing times, and incarceration rates. For each jurisdiction with available case outcome data, empirical tests will explore how the laws defining the sentencing schemes and judicial discretion affect average sentences. Finally, through extensive interviews of American and foreign jurists, as well as a mail survey of federal district judges, this research will shed light on the little studied area of judicial discretion and explore why lawmakers choose to adopt sentencing guidelines in the first place.

Research subjects that will be interviewed include approximately 50 federal judges in California, 30 judges and/or sentencing commission officials in England and Wales, 15 in Scotland and 10 each in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Washington. Research subjects for the federal district court judges' mail survey will include approximately 600 to 700 active federal judges in the 94 judicial districts. Participants will be located by directories or online resources that list judges and sentencing commission members.

The dissertation employs three research methods. The first method involves quasi-experiments of individual case information and sentencing outcomes in jurisdictions that have sentencing guideline schemes and available data. This method tests hypotheses and predictions on cases with identical facts. The second method tests through interrupted time series analysis the effect of major changes in sentencing law on three main dependent variables: case sentences (where data available), case processing times, and incarceration rates. The third method is a qualitative analysis of judges and sentencing commissioners regarding their opinions on why guidelines are adopted and the effect of such guidelines on judicial discretion.ca/ncf

Date Created: July 9, 2007