Regional and Circuit Court Differences in Decisions to Grant Departures From the Sentencing Guidelines

Amy Farrell, Northeastern University

Increasingly, policy makers and scholars have raised concern about the existence of regional inter-judge or ibnter-district sentencing disparity across the federal judicial circuits. Particular concern has focused on the relationship between defendant characteristics, such as race and gender, and disparate sentencing outcomes. This study examines how regional differences in sentencing outcomes are explained, in part, by varying legal precedent among the circuit courts about the "appropriate" application of particular types of guideline departures and by differeing cultural norms that have developed among the judicial districts about the standards for granting departures. This paper uses two methodologies to examine the cause and consequences of inbter-judge and inter-district sentencing disparity. The first stage of the project uses federal sentencing data from 1996-1998 to examine how departures vasry among judges across judicial districts and circuits, measuring the effect of such variation on sentencinbg outcomes. The second state of the analysis uses existing federal case law on guideline departures to illustrate how differing legal standards about the "appropriate" application of particular types of departures have developed within the circuit courts, causing regional variation in the application of guideline departures.

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Updated 05/20/2006