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Impact of Determinate Sentencing Laws on Delay, Trial Rates, and Plea Rates in Seven States, October 2000

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2000
103 pages

This study tested the impact of determinate sentencing laws on court delay, number of trials, and plea rates in seven States.


Determinate sentencing, one of the most important sentencing innovations in recent decades, is based on the rationale that imprisonment does not rehabilitate inmates and that parole board decisions are often arbitrary and not based on the rehabilitation of the prisoner. Determinate sentencing emphasizes other goals for imprisonment, such as deterrence, incapacitation, and “just deserts” punishment. The impacts on court delay and the number of trials held have long been major concerns for those studying sentencing. Research exists concerning the impact of determinate sentencing on decisions to go to trial or to plea guilty, but a lesser amount of theory and research exists concerning court delay. This research used the multiple time series design. The seven States were California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington. Results showed that there was strong evidence that determinate sentencing laws increased court delay. It took some time for the impact to occur but the impact was clear and substantial. There was evidence of such impacts in California, Connecticut, New Mexico, and North Carolina. The laws were generally followed by declines in jury trial rates. The largest immediate impact occurred in Virginia. Large gradual impacts occurred in California and North Carolina, as well as Virginia. It appeared that the law caused jury trials to increase in Washington. This impact was limited to jury trials. When the dependent variable was all trials, nonjury as well as jury, there was little evidence that the laws increased or reduced trials. The decline in jury trials was not due to a corresponding increase in guilty pleas. The laws were actually associated with fewer guilty pleas. 20 tables, 33 references

Date Published: October 1, 2000