Factors Affecting Sentencing Outcomes in Criminal Cases: A Multilevel Analysis

Noelle Fearn, University of Missouri - St. Louis

The present research uses data on felony defendants in a nationally representative sample of large urban counties, in conjunction with data on the characteristics of the counties in which the cases were adjuciated, to examine both the individual and contextual factors that influence sentencing outcomes. Drawing on prior theory and research, multilevel models are estimated to determine whether various contextual factors (e.g., racial composition, age structure, sex ratio, and religious and political affiliations) affect the type (e.g., prison, jail, probation, fine) and length of sentences received, net of other factors associated with sentencing outcomes. Additionally, this research examines whether the contextual characteristics condition the effects of several defendant characteristicxs on sentencing outcomes. The results of this research will broaden our understanding of the influence of defendant and case characteristics on sentencing outcomes, especially the contextual nature of those effects, and greatly expand our knowledge of how contextual factors affect a variety of sentencing outcomes. In addition, this research will proivide valuable information to criminal justice policymakers about the factors associated with variation across jurisdictions in the nature and severity of sentencing outcomes.

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Updated 05/20/2006