Jury Sentencing in Non-Capital Cases: Comparing Severity and Variance with Judicial Sentences in Two States
55 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2005
Recently commentators have championed sentencing by jury as more democratic, less sensitive to electoral pressure, and better suited to current theories of punishment than sentencing by judge alone. Despite the importance of reliable empirical information about jury sentencing, contemporary discussions of this practice either fail to address empirical questions or rely on outdated and incomplete studies. This study is the first to present basic information on the comparative severity and variance of jury and judge sentencing as practiced at the turn of the twenty-first century. We present offense-specific analyses of the variance and severity of jury sentences as compared to judge sentences, controlling for available factors associated with sentence severity, using several years of archival sentencing data from Arkansas and Virginia. In both states, juries select sentences in felony cases after jury trial. Judicial sentencing after bench trial or guilty plea is governed by voluntary sentencing guidelines. Regression analyses evaluated sentences of incarceration for individual offenses, and included as independent variables available offense, offender, and case characteristics associated with sentence severity. For most of the offenses examined in these two states, the sentences selected by juries after trial were both more varied and more severe than sentences selected by judges after bench trial. The findings also suggest that these disparities may be deliberately maintained by judges and prosecutors and facilitated by state law that restricts the sentencing options and information provided to juries as compared to judges.
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