Trial Penalties in Federal Sentencing: Extra-Guidelines Factors and District Variation

Justice Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 4, 2010

34 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2010

See all articles by Jeffery Todd Ulmer

Jeffery Todd Ulmer

Penn State University

James Eisenstein

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Brian Johnson

University of Maryland

Date Written: March 25, 2010

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Ulmer, Jeffery Todd and Eisenstein, James and Johnson, Brian, Trial Penalties in Federal Sentencing: Extra-Guidelines Factors and District Variation (March 25, 2010). Justice Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 4, 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1578444

Jeffery Todd Ulmer (Contact Author)

Penn State University ( email )

Department of Sociology
211 Oswald Tower
University Park, PA 16802
United States

James Eisenstein

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Brian Johnson

University of Maryland ( email )

2220 LeFrak Hall
College Park, MD 20742
United States

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