The joint effects of offender race/ethnicity and gender on substantial assistance departures in federal courts

Cassia Spohn, Pauline K. Brennan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

25 Scopus citations

Abstract

Research on the federal sentencing process has demonstrated that, the sentencing guidelines notwithstanding, outcomes are affected by legally irrelevant offender characteristics. Using data on offenders convicted of drug offenses in three U.S. district courts, we build on and extend this research. We examine the main and interactive effects of offender race/ethnicity and gender on the likelihood of receiving a downward departure for providing substantial assistance and on the magnitude of the sentence discount given to offenders who receive these departures. Our findings indicate the Black and Hispanic male offenders are treated more harshly than all other offenders. Our findings also indicate that there are no differences between female offenders of any race/ethnicity and White male offenders or between the three groups of female offenders. We suggest that prosecutors and judges use the discretion inherent in the substantial assistance departure to circumvent the guidelines and to fashion more appropriate sentences for sympathetic and salvageable offenders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-78
Number of pages30
JournalRace and Justice
Volume1
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2011

Keywords

  • Drug laws
  • Presumptive sentencing
  • Race and sentencing
  • Sentencing guidelines
  • Stereotypes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Anthropology

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