Judging by the Cover: On the Relationship Between Media Coverage on Crime and Harshness in Sentencing

68 Pages Posted: 24 Mar 2021 Last revised: 15 Apr 2021

See all articles by Itay Ravid

Itay Ravid

Villanova University - School of Law; Stanford University, School of Law

Date Written: February 19, 2021


Does the mass media affect judicial decisionmaking? This first of its kind empirical study delves into this long-lasting question, and investigates the relationship between media coverage of crime and criminal sentencing. To do so, I construct a novel data set of media reports on crime, which I link to administrative state court sentencing records. The data span five years and more than forty-three thousand sentencing decisions across three jurisdictions that differ in their judicial selection models: Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. I find that crime coverage increases sentencing harshness. I also find evidence to suggest that this effect is mitigated through a state’s method of judicial selection. The findings go beyond traditional, case-study scholarship on the nexus between the media and the judiciary, offering evidence that the media can affect judicial decisionmaking in broader contexts. These findings hold significant implications for policy and judicial politics and raise questions at the core of the criminal justice system. Particularly, they call for renewed attention to the media as an important factor in the criminal process and a potential obstacle towards achieving the constitutional ideal of fair trials. The Article concludes by suggesting methods for countering such media effects.

Keywords: Criminal Law, Sentencing, Courts and the Media, Empirical Legal Studies

Suggested Citation

Ravid, Itay, Judging by the Cover: On the Relationship Between Media Coverage on Crime and Harshness in Sentencing (February 19, 2021). 93(6) S. Cal. L. Rev. 1121 (2020), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3789179

Itay Ravid (Contact Author)

Villanova University - School of Law ( email )

299 N. Spring Mill Road
Villanova, PA 19085
United States

Stanford University, School of Law ( email )

Stanford, CA
United States

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