The Immediate Consequences of Pretrial Detention: Evidence from Federal Criminal Cases
61 Pages Posted: Last revised: 20 Feb 2018
Date Written: February 17, 2018
This paper presents evidence of the effects of pretrial detention status on criminal case outcomes in federal criminal cases. Using data spanning 71 federal district courts, I find that pretrial release reduces a defendant’s sentence length by around 67 percent and increases the probability that a defendant will receive a sentence below the recommended sentencing range. Pretrial release also reduces the probability that a defendant will receive at least the mandatory minimum sentence—when one is charged—but does not affect the probability that the defendant will face a mandatory minimum sentence. To address the identification problem inherent in using pretrial detention status as an explanatory variable, I exploit variation in magistrate judges’ propensities to release defendants pending trial. This setting allows magistrate judge leniency to serve as an instrumental variable for pretrial release. This paper also presents suggestive evidence that pretrial release affects case outcomes through two channels: first, by giving defendants the opportunity to present mitigating evidence at sentencing and, second, by making it easier for defendants to earn a sentencing reduction by providing assistance to the government.
Keywords: detention, bail, bond, pretrial, incarceration, sentencing, instrumental variable
JEL Classification: K14, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation