Homicide Sentencing and the Behavior of Law

Kathleen Auerhahn, Temple University

While a vast research literature exists detailing inequities and extralegal disparities in criminal sentencing in the United States, relatively little is known about whether such disparity exists in the sentencing of homicide defendants. The research to be presented examines sentencing outcomes in homicide cases adjudicated guilty in Philadelphia over the period 1995-2000 with specific focus on the victim/offender dyad, testing propositions advanced in the works of Donald Black regarding "the behavior of law" (and later, "the social structure of right and wrong"). Specifically, this research examines whether homicides in which offenders and victims have disparate social status are treated differently than those in which offenders and victims are similar on status variables. Consistent with Black, it is hypothesized that sentences will reflect status disparities between victims and offenders, with a sentencing "premium" placed on defendants whose victims are higher status, relative to offenders, net of legally relevant control variables.

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Updated 05/20/2006