District Court Decision-Making Before and After U.S. v. Booker: The Effects of Legislative Action on Judicial Discretion
Lydia Brashear Tiede
University of Houston - Department of Political Science
July 5, 2007
In this paper, I determine how the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, promulgated by the United States Sentencing Commission and changes in the law governing these guidelines, affected federal district court decision-making from fiscal years 1999 to 2005. I also determine whether changes in sentencing laws affect the number and manner of plea bargains that prosecutors bring before district court judges. I examine three groups of cases where guideline application varies. My results establish significant differences in how judges make decisions depending on whether or not they applied the guidelines or departed. Cases where guideline ranges were applied have higher sentences and less variance as compared to cases where there were departures. I also find that limitations on judges' ability to depart as mandated by the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today Act of 2003 and the conversion of guidelines by the Supreme Court in United States v. Booker (2005) from mandatory to advisory affected case frequencies, prosecutors' strategies, and sentence averages at the circuit, but not national, level.
Keywords: district courts, judicial discretion, judicial decision-making, sentencing, U.S. v. Booker, PROTECT Act
JEL Classification: K14
Date posted: July 7, 2007