The Impact of Ohio's Determinate Sentencing Scheme on Case Processing in Trial Courts of General Jurisdiction

John Wooldredge, University of Cincinnati
Timothy Griffin, Nevada - Reno, University of
Travis C. Pratt, Washington State University
Fritz Rauschenburg, OH Criminal Justice Sentencing Commission

Disparities in sentencing based on the extra-legal characteristics of defendants (race, sex, economic status, etc.) violate the premise of due process and hinder the goal of proportionality in punishment (Crew, 1991). One goal of recent truth in sentencing policies has been to reduce such disparities through the use of fairly rigid determinate sentencing schemes, which appear to have been effective in Florida and Minnesota (Bales, 1997; Stolzenberg and D'Allessio, 1994). However, Ohio's reforms through Senate Bill 2 (SB2) involved the implementation of a set of guidelines that are less rigid than typical determinate sentencing schemes such as those used in Florida and Minnesota. This paper presents the results of a study designed to examine whether extra-legal disparities in sentencing have been reduced significantly under Ohio's less rigid scheme. Findings reveal a significant reduction in the likelihood of imprisonment under SB2 for convicted felons in general. Minor reductions in racial disparities in imprisonment and the length of imprisonment have occurred under Senate Bill 2, but this appears to be due only to a re-classification of some drug crimes (disproportionately over-represented by African-Americans) to Felony 5's. Moreover, significant disparities in case processing remain under SB2, such as harsher outcomes for (a) convicted defendants with court appointed attorneys, (b) convicted non-white defendants accused of victimizing whites, and (c) convicted defendants with substance abuse histories. Although Ohio's less rigid sentencing reforms may be viewed more favorably by court participants, their influences on case processing have been modest (at best).

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Updated 05/20/2006