Judicial Discretion Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines: The Effect of Guidelines Departurues on Sentence Severity

Celesta A. Albonetti, University of Iowa

This research examines the direct and indirect effects of defendant characteristics and Guideline-defined legally relevant variables on sentence severity under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, judicial discretion was to be substantially reduced in an effort to eliminate sentence disparity linked to extra-legal variables such as defendant's ethnicity, gender and educational attainment. To date studies have not explored the indirect effect of offender characteristics on length of imprisonment via an effect on the probablility of receiving a guidelines departure. The present research seeks to contribute to an understanding of judicial discretion by estimating two regression equations. The first equation is a logistic equation of the probability of receiving a guidelines departure. The second equation is a tobit model that regresses defendant characteristics, legally relevant variables, guilty pleas and departures on length of imprisonment. A finding from this research indicates the significant and non-trivial mediating role of guidelines departures in the relationship between defendant characteristics and length of imprisonment.

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Updated 05/20/2006