Racial, Ethnic, and Citizenship Disparity in Sentencing Under Federal Sentencing Guidelines: A Comparison of Two Judicial Districts

James D. Clark, University of Texas - Austin

This paper examines the relationship between defendants' race, ethnicity and citizenship in departures and sentencing within two Federal judicial districts. Analysis employed federal sentencing data provided by the U.S. Sentencing Commission for the fiscal year 2001 and qualitative interviews with court officials in both districts. The results indicate that Hispanic non-U.S. citizens had greater odds of receiving downward judicial departures from federal judges in the district with a higher proportion of non-U.S. citizens as defendants. Black and Hispanic defendants were found to have lower odds of receiving departures for substantial assistance from federal prosecutors compared to white defendants in the district with a low proportion of non-U.S. citizens as defendants. Non-US citizens were also found to have higher rates of imprisonment as a sentencing outcome, relative to White US citizens across both districts. The results of this study indicate that the racial, ethnic, and citizenship status of defendants has varying effects on case outcomes throughout the sentencing process and are consistent with Steffensmeier and colleagues' (1998) focal concerns theory of unwarranted disparity in criminal sentencing.

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Updated 05/20/2006