Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

Racial Disparity in Federal Criminal Charging and Its Sentencing Consequences

61 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2012 Last revised: 2 Jun 2012

M. Marit Rehavi

University of British Columbia; Canadian Institute for Advanced Research

Sonja B. Starr

University of Michigan Law School

Date Written: May 7, 2012

Abstract

Using rich data linking federal cases from arrest through sentencing, we assess the contribution of prosecutors' initial charging decisions to large observed black-white disparities in sentence length. Pre-charge characteristics, including arrest offense and criminal history, can explain about 80% of these disparities, but substantial gaps remain across the distribution. On average, blacks receive almost 10% longer sentences than comparable whites arrested for the same crimes. At least half this gap can be explained by initial charging choices, particularly the filing of charges carrying mandatory minimum sentences. Prosecutors are, ceteris paribus, almost twice as likely to file such charges against blacks.

Suggested Citation

Rehavi, M. Marit and Starr, Sonja B., Racial Disparity in Federal Criminal Charging and Its Sentencing Consequences (May 7, 2012). U of Michigan Law & Econ, Empirical Legal Studies Center Paper No. 12-002. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1985377 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1985377

M. Marit Rehavi

University of British Columbia ( email )

997-1873 East Mall
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z1
Canada

Canadian Institute for Advanced Research

180 Dundas Street West, Suite 1400
Toronto, Ontario
Canada

Sonja B. Starr (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State St
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States
617 821-1222 (Phone)

Paper statistics

Downloads
4,588
Rank
1,319
Abstract Views
27,397