Multilevel Analysis of Sentencing Outcomes Under Federal Determinate Sentencing

Paula Kautt, University of Texas at San Antonio

Prior sentencing research makes clear that factors beyond case and offender attributes such as environmental, contextual, and court actor characteristics all affect sentencing outcomes. Yet, research on federal level criminal sentencing since the federal sentencing guidelines (hereafter Guidelines) focuses almost exclusively on case and offender level influences. Of the studies that examine Guidelines sentencing, the few that control for contextual and environmental factors do so only cursorily--including only a series of dummy variables representing either circuit or district to account for such influences. Of these, many find circuit or district-level variation in sentencing outcomes. In addition, Congressional testimony and federal reports suggest that differences in circuit and district practices may account for the persistence of racial disparity in federal sentencing outcomes. Despite this, to date, no study has focused primarily on racial differences in Guidelines sentencing outcomes by circuit or district--even though available data permit the construction and analysis of multilevel models of federal criminal sentencing. This research seeks to remedy the aforementioned deficiency by focusing specifically on the impact of the local court environment and context on racial differences in criminal sentencing outcomes while controllng for case level factors through the use of miltilevel modeling techniques.

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Updated 05/20/2006