Blame Based on One's Name? Extralegal Disparities in Criminal Conviction and Sentencing
54 Pages Posted: 29 May 2018 Last revised: 7 Oct 2018
Date Written: October 2, 2018
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
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