Truthiness in Punishment: The Far Reach of Truth‐In‐Sentencing Laws in State Courts

23 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2011

Date Written: December 2011

Abstract

Truth‐in‐sentencing (TIS) laws require that violent felons serve large fractions of their sentences behind bars. In practice, the scope of these laws may be either more or less broad than the legislative intent. Using a large sample of defendants arrested for violent felonies and charged between 1990 and 2004, I do not find evidence that prosecutors or judges manipulate charges or sentences in a way that counteracts the spirit of TIS laws; instead, I find that the passage of TIS laws is associated with approximately 12‐ to 18‐week longer sentences for people who are arrested for TIS‐eligible crimes, but plead guilty to TIS‐ineligible misdemeanors. This spillover effect of TIS laws into misdemeanor sanctions suggests that instead of being undone in the courtroom, TIS increases punishment for all violent offenders, not just those technically subject to the law.

Suggested Citation

Owens, Emily Greene, Truthiness in Punishment: The Far Reach of Truth‐In‐Sentencing Laws in State Courts (December 2011). Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Vol. 8, pp. 239-261, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1963628 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1740-1461.2011.01228.x

Emily Greene Owens (Contact Author)

Cornell University ( email )

120 Martha Van Rensselaer Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

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