Citizenship Status, Race, Ethnicity, and Their Effects on Sentencing

Citizenship Status, Race, Ethnicity, and Their Effects on Sentencing

Citizenship Status, Race, Ethnicity, and Their Effects on Sentencing

Citizenship Status, Race, Ethnicity, and Their Effects on Sentencing

Synopsis

Wu examines the independent effect of citizenship status and its joint effect with race/ethnicity, national origin, and geographic locations on sentencing outcomes. He studies the between-group relationship in terms of citizenship status and conflict theory as well as the within-group relationship in terms of race/ethnicity and typification theory. Findings reveal mixed support for theoretical propositions and research hypotheses, with stronger support for conflict theory than for typification theory. The double-disadvantage hypothesis is not supported. The findings regarding federal judges' harshness in the incarceration decision while showing leniency in the probation length and prison sentence length decisions for non-citizen offenders reflect a balance between focal concerns and the enhanced social control of conflict theory.

Excerpt

Federal Sentencing Guidelines have guided federal judges’ sentencing decisions since their advent in 1987. The primary goal of Federal Sentencing Guidelines is to create equal justice for similarly situated offenders without extralegal factors interfering with the severity/leniency of the sentence. Sentencing Guidelines provide little room for federal judges to sentence a defendant via the exercise of their discretionary powers. The Guidelines’ structure uses a rigid sentencing grid, with criminal history and the seriousness of the offense as the horizontal and vertical axes to produce a presumptive Guidelines range for judges’ application. In principle, judges are bound to sentence an offender within the Guidelines range, but judges may mete out a sentence below or above the Guidelines range if reasons are provided (USSC §5K1.1 & §5K2.0, 2005).

Differential sentences stemming from the Guidelines’ structure have been characterized as reflecting warranted disparity and unwarranted disparity. Warranted disparity is described as differential sentences accounted for by differences in the seriousness of the offense and an offender’s criminal history. In contrast, unwarranted disparity refers to differences in sentencing outcomes among similarly situated offenders due to the exercise of extralegal factors, which mainly involve the offender’s demographic characteristics.

Unwarranted disparity in judicial decision making has long been an issue of concern for researchers in the sentencing field. In general, social science research reveals that judges base their sentencing decisions largely on legally relevant factors. However, such factors do not explain all variation in criminal sentencing. Sentencing decisions stemming from the consideration of offender characteristics, which are . . .

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