Prosecutorial Incentives and Outcome Disparities

81 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2021 Last revised: 17 May 2023

Date Written: April 11, 2022


We examine the causal effects of prosecutors' incentives on racial and gender disparities. Blakely v. Washington 542 U.S. 296 (2004) significantly disincentivized state prosecutors from pursuing sentence enhancements by raising their burdens of proof from "preponderance of evidence" to "beyond a reasonable doubt." Through a regression discontinuity design, we find that a higher burden of proof reduces defendants' likelihood of receiving a sentence enhancement by 47%. Furthermore, we  nd striking evidence that Blakely eliminated the entire preexisting gender gap of men being 24% more likely to receive sentence enhancements than women. However, we find no evidence suggesting a racial gap of sentence enhancements both pre and post Blakely.

Keywords: Prosecutorial Incentives, Sentence Enhancement, Racial Disparity, Gender Disparity

JEL Classification: J15, J16, K14

Suggested Citation

Yuan, Andy and Cooper, Spencer, Prosecutorial Incentives and Outcome Disparities (April 11, 2022). Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 21-33, Available at SSRN: or

Andy Yuan (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Spencer Cooper

University of Arizona - Department of Economics ( email )

McClelland Hall
Tucson, AZ 85721-0108
United States

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