Sentencing under the federal sentencing guidelines: Effects of defendant characteristics, guilty pleas, and departures on sentence outcomes for drug offenses, 1991-

  • Albonetti C
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Abstract

The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 mandated major restructuring of fed- eral sentencing through specific sentencing guidelines. New sentencing guide- lines developed by the United States Sentencing Commission and adopted in 1987 explicitly linked sentencing to "relevant conduct"-offense characteris- tics-and sought to abolish unwarranted sentence disparity. The guidelines substantially reduced judicial discretion and resulted in a criminalization and sentencing process that is largely prosecutor controlled. The author has gener- ated hypotheses that relate defendant characteristics, guilty pleas, and depar- tures from sentencing guidelines to sentence outcomes under the federal sen- tencing guidelines. She first examined the variables influencing sentence severity for the drug offenders who were sentenced in 1991-92. She then ex- plored the interaction effects by estimating the tobit equation separately for three groups-black, white, and Hispanic defendants-to discover whether de- fendant's ethnicity conditions the effect of other defendant characteristics, guidelines-defined legally relevant variables, guilty pleas, and departures on sentence severity. Her analysis reveals that disparity in federal sentencing of drug offenders is linked not only to offense-related variables, as structured by the guidelines, but also to defendant characteristics such as ethnicity, gender, educational level, and noncitizenship, which under the guidelines are specified as legally irrelevant. U

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Authors

  • Ca Celesta a. Albonetti

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