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Do Judges Vary in Their Treatment of Race?

39 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2011 Last revised: 28 Sep 2013

David Abrams

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Marianne Bertrand

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Sendhil Mullainathan

Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: May 28, 2013

Abstract

Are minorities treated differently by the legal system? Systematic racial differences in case characteristics, many unobservable, make this a difficult question to answer directly. In this paper, we estimate whether judges differ from each other in how they sentence minorities, avoiding potential bias from unobservable case characteristics by exploiting the random assignment of cases to judges. We measure the between-judge variation in the difference in incarceration rates and sentence lengths between African-American and White defendants. We perform a Monte Carlo simulation in order to explicitly construct the appropriate counterfactual, where race does not influence judicial sentencing. In our data set, which includes felony cases from Cook County, Illinois, we find statistically significant between-judge variation in incarceration rates, although not in sentence lengths.

Keywords: Criminal law, racial discrimination, race and justice, punishment, sentencing, bias, incarceration rate, sentence length, Monte Carlo simulation, empirical research, forecasting and simulation, accounting for disparities in judicial behavior, law and economics of crime

JEL Classification: C79, J29, J71, K14

Suggested Citation

Abrams, David and Bertrand, Marianne and Mullainathan, Sendhil, Do Judges Vary in Their Treatment of Race? (May 28, 2013). Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 41, No. 2 (June 2012), pp. 347-383; U of Penn, Inst for Law & Econ Research Paper No. 11-07. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1800840

David Abrams (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Marianne Bertrand

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-834-5943 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://gsbwww.uchicago.edu/fac/marianne.bertrand/vita/cv_0604.pdf

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-588-0341 (Phone)
617-876-2742 (Fax)

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom

Sendhil Mullainathan

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2720 (Phone)
617-495-7730 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-588-1473 (Phone)
617-876-2742 (Fax)

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