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Offender Race and Case Outcomes: Do Crime Seriousness and Strength of Evidence Matter? Final Activities Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
46 pages
The primary objective of this study was to provide a more comprehensive test of the liberation hypothesis by examining the effect of race on a series of case processing decisions and by comparing case outcomes for black and white offenders charged with a variety of felonies.
Building on the liberation hypothesis, the study predicted that, in more serious cases, the appropriate sentence would be strongly determined by crime seriousness and the defendant's prior criminal record. The data file used in the study included information on charging, convicting, and sentencing decisions in North Carolina for 1,378 defendants charged with felonies in 1978 and 1,280 defendants charged with felonies in 1981. The effect of race on eight different case outcomes was explored--three pretrial decisions, two convicting outcomes, and three sentencing decisions. Data were analyzed using both ordinary least squares regression and logistic regression. The analysis did not uncover any evidence of systematic racial discrimination in North Carolina. Race directly affected only one of the eight case outcomes. Although black defendants were more likely than white defendants to be convicted of a felony rather than a misdemeanor, they did not face significantly higher or lower odds of pretrial detention, conviction on any charge, incarceration, or imprisonment. The sentences imposed on blacks and whites who were incarcerated were also similar. On the other hand, the study found evidence of contextual discrimination. Race effects, when they did surface, tended to be confined to cases in the middle category of the offense seriousness scale. Findings provide support for the liberation hypothesis and for the contention that conflict theory does not necessarily predict blacks will be treated more harshly than whites. 40 references, 3 notes, and 7 tables

Date Published: January 1, 2000