Citizenship, Race/Ethnicity, and Sentencing Outcomes in U.S. Federal Courts

Stephen Demuth, Bowling Green State University

Several recent studies that examine the effects of race and ethnicity on sentencing outcomes find that Hispanic and black defendants receive longer sentences and are more likely to receive incarceration sentences than white defendants after controlling for important legal factors. Using federal court data collected by the U.S. Sentencing Commission for the years 1995-1998, I extend prior research on white-black-Hispanic sentencing differences by the U.S. federal courts. An investigation of the influence of citizenship status on sentencing outcomes is important because (1) similar to race/ethnicity, under the federal sentencing guidelines it is unacceptable for prosecutors or judges to use citizenship status as a criterion in making sentencing decisions, (2) citizenship status and Hispanic ethnicity are strongly related extralegal factors that may serve to "doubly disadvantage" non-citizen Hispanic defendants relative to other citizenship status-racial/ethnic group defendants at the sentencing stage, and (3) attitudes toward and sentencing outcomes of non-citizens may have implications for the treatment of Hispanic citizens in the federal courts.

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Updated 05/20/2006