Tuesday, February 01, 2005

New Study on Racial Disparity in Sentencing

According to the folks at CrimProf Blog, there's a new study from the Sentencing Project that canvasses the academic literature on racial sentencing disparity.

Now that district courts must consider all the factors listed in § 3553(a), including "the history and characteristics of the defendant," and "the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct," as well as the need for the sentence to provide "just punishment for the offense," the Sentencing Project just published a timely review of the literature on racial disparity in sentencing (available at: http://www.sentencingproject.org/pdfs/disparity.pdf), which could provide powerful statistical support for a mitigated sentence in appopriate cases. Among its findings:
· Young, black and Latino males (especially if unemployed) are subject to particularly harsh sentencing compared to other offender populations;
· Black and Latino defendants are disadvantaged compared to whites with regard to legal-process related factors such as the "trial penalty," sentence reductions for substantial assistance, criminal history, pretrial detention, and type of attorney;
· Black defendants convicted of harming white victims suffer harsher penalties than blacks who commit crimes against other blacks or white defendants who harm whites;
· Black and Latino defendants tend to be sentenced more severely than comparably situated white defendants for less serious crimes, especially drug and property crimes.
Studies that examine death-penalty cases have generally found that:
· In the vast majority of cases, if the murder victim is white, the defendant is more likely to receive a death sentence;
· In a few jurisdictions, notably the federal system, minority defendants (especially blacks) are more likely to receive a death sentence.


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