Blame Based on One's Name? Extralegal Disparities in Criminal Conviction and Sentencing

54 Pages Posted: 29 May 2018 Last revised: 7 Oct 2018

See all articles by Samantha Bielen

Samantha Bielen

Hasselt University - Faculty of Applied Economics

Peter Grajzl

Washington and Lee University - Department of Economics; CESifo

Wim Marneffe

Hasselt University - Faculty of Applied Economics

Date Written: October 2, 2018

Abstract

We examine whether perceived ethnoreligious origin of defendant's name matters for criminal justice outcomes. Drawing on uniquely detailed data on adjudication of drug offenses in Belgium, we find that defendants with a perceived Islamic name face on average three to five percentage points greater prospects of conviction than defendants with a Belgian name. The name effect is not discernible with respect to sentence severity, does not apply to defendants with a non Islamic foreign name, obtains even in the subsample of defendants who never appeared in court, does not take place via defendant's pretrial custody status, affects primarily male defendants, and magnifies the effect of prior criminal record. The presiding judge's exposure to Islamic culture is an important moderating factor: the positive effect of defendant's perceived Islamic name on conviction prospects occurs only when the presiding judge lives in an area with few mosques or when the nearest mosque is far from the judge's home. Our results indicate that any underlying judicial bias is likely implicit and not systemic in nature.

Keywords: criminal justice, disparities, Islamic name, conviction, sentencing, judicial bias

JEL Classification: K14, K42, J15

Suggested Citation

Bielen, Samantha and Grajzl, Peter and Marneffe, Wim, Blame Based on One's Name? Extralegal Disparities in Criminal Conviction and Sentencing (October 2, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3185444 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3185444

Samantha Bielen

Hasselt University - Faculty of Applied Economics ( email )

Agoralaan 30, Building D
Diepenbeek, 3590
Belgium

Peter Grajzl (Contact Author)

Washington and Lee University - Department of Economics ( email )

Lexington, VA 24450
United States

HOME PAGE: http://home.wlu.edu/~grajzlp/

CESifo ( email )

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679
Germany

Wim Marneffe

Hasselt University - Faculty of Applied Economics ( email )

Agoralaan 30, Building D
Diepenbeek, 3590
Belgium

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