Trial Penalties in Federal Sentencing: Extra-Guidelines Factors and District Variation
Justice Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 4, 2010
34 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2010
Date Written: March 25, 2010
The guarantee of the right to a jury trial lies at the heart of the principles that underlie the American criminal justice system’s commitment to due process of law. We investigate the differential sentencing of those who plead guilty and those convicted by trial in U.S. District Courts. We first investigate how much of any federal plea/trial sentencing differences are accounted for by substantial assistance to law enforcement, acceptance of responsibility, obstruction of justice, and other Guideline departures. Second, we investigate how such differences vary according to offense and defendant characteristics, as well as court caseloads and trial rates. We use federal sentencing data for fiscal years 2000-2002, along with aggregate data on federal district court caseload features. We find that meaningful trial penalties exist after accounting for Guidelines-based rationales for differentially sentencing those convicted by guilty plea versus trial. Higher district court caseload pressure is associated with greater trial penalties, while higher district trial rates are associated with lesser trial penalties. In addition, trial penalties are lower for those with more substantial criminal histories, and black men . Trial penalties proportionately increase, however, as Guideline minimum sentencing recommendations increase. We also supplement our analysis with interview and survey data from federal district court participants, which provide insights into the plea reward/trial penalty process, and also suggest important dimensions of federal court trial penalties that we cannot measure.
Keywords: federal sentencing, trial penalty, disparity, federal courts
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