Thursday, July 19, 2007

Politics and Guidelines

A really important article on the politics of judicial sentencing under sentencing guidelines, at least on the fed level. I’d like to second the notion of identifying the judges to allow further study. You’re not going to aggravate the judges in small jurisdictions whose decisions are well known in a community anyway, just the urban judges who don’t like urban media limelight. Yes, it makes it easier to demagogue a particular sentence, but that usually will happen anyway. An additional importance is simply the ability to identify and link the sentences that work (offenders don’t recidivate) to the judges who give them and use that info for training, disciplining, and analyzing what would make better sentences. Here’s the abstract to give you a good feel for the article, which can be downloaded from the link, nearer the bottom of the scroll when you get there:

Reviewing the Sentencing Guidelines: Judicial Politics, Empirical Evidence, and Reform
MAX M. SCHANZENBACH Northwestern University - School of Law
EMERSON H. TILLER Northwestern University - School of Law
June 2007
Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 07-17

This article presents the first large-scale empirical study of federal guidelines sentencing that matches offenders to the sentencing judge. We confirm the widely-held belief that political ideology matters in criminal sentencing – specifically, Republican-appointed judges give longer sentences than Democrat-appointees with regard to certain crimes. More interestingly, we find evidence consistent with positive political theory that such decision making is nested within the broader political-ideological relationship of the sentencing judge and the overseeing circuit court. We find, for example, that Democrat-appointed judges depart from the Sentencing Guidelines to give shorter sentences more often and to a greater degree when the reviewing court is politically aligned (circuit majority Democrat-appointed) than when not aligned (circuit majority Republican-appointed). We then discuss the Supreme Court's evolving sentencing jurisprudence and the likely impact of alternatives to the present system. We conclude that Guidelines improves sentencing consistency and preserves the benefit of appellate review. We also proposes two potential reforms: first, mandating open access to judge identifiers in sentencing data for researchers to study sources of judicial bias; and, second, mandating ideologically mixed appellate panels for review of criminal sentences to prevent the more extreme instances of ideological alignment that frequently occur between district and circuit court panels that lead to more extreme outcomes in sentencing.

h/t Empirical Legal Studies

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