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Evaluating Data on Corporate Sentencing: How Reliable are the U.S Sentencing Commission's Data?


Cindy R. Alexander


U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)

Jennifer Arlen


New York University School of Law

Mark A. Cohen


Vanderbilt University - Owen Graduate School of Management; Vanderbilt University - Law School; Resources for the Future


Federal Sentencing Reporter, Vol. 13, P. 108

Abstract:     
During a recent study of how 1991 federal sentencing guidelines have affected the penalties that federal courts impose on public corporations, we performed an independent evaluation of the quality of the data on corporate sanctions that the U.S. Sentencing Commission releases to the public. Our initial findings led us to use other, independently-compiled data for our own research. This paper presents the main findings of our evaluation, which focused on the quality of the Commission's 1988-1996 (ICPSR) data on public corporations. First, the Commission's post-Guidelines data on penalties for public corporations appear to be incomplete and non-representative of the underlying case population. For example, the ICPSR post-1991 data appear to exclude a disproportionate number of large fines imposed on public corporations. No similar difficulties in the ICPSR pre-Guidelines (1988-1989) data were found. Shortfalls in the post-Guidelines data on other kinds of defendants, such as individuals, appear to be less marked. Second, the Commission's data are missing variables that may explain a substantial part of the case-by-case variation that occurs in sentencing. The data reveal little about the harm caused by the offense, which is often estimated in court papers. Also missing is information about the identity of the sentencing judge and about the identity of the corporation being sentenced. We review the history of the Commission's efforts to collect data on federal sentencing, highlighting institutional constraints and other factors that appear relevant to the difficulties we have found in the data that the Commission releases to the public.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 23

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Date posted: May 17, 2001  

Suggested Citation

Alexander, Cindy R. and Arlen, Jennifer and Cohen, Mark A., Evaluating Data on Corporate Sentencing: How Reliable are the U.S Sentencing Commission's Data?. Federal Sentencing Reporter, Vol. 13, P. 108. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=269356 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.269356

Contact Information

Cindy R. Alexander (Contact Author)
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ( email )
100 F Street NE
Washington, DC 20549-1105
United States
202-551-6602 (Phone)
Jennifer Arlen
New York University School of Law ( email )
40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
Mark A. Cohen
Vanderbilt University - Owen Graduate School of Management ( email )
401 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203
United States
615-322-0533 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://www.mba.vanderbilt.edu/faculty/mcohen.cfm
Vanderbilt University - Law School
131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States
Resources for the Future ( email )
1616 P Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States
202-328-5000 (Phone)
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