Sentencing Decisions in Three U.S. District Courts: Testing the Assumption of Uniformity in the Federal Sentencing Process

Cassia Spohn, University of Nebraska at Omaha

Critics of federal sentencing research suggest that the research conducted to date has produced an incomplete and, perhaps, misleading picture of the federal sentencing process. With few exceptions, the research conducted to date focuses on sentencing decisions at the national level. These studies assume there is little inter-district variation in case processing policies and procedures and that findings regarding sentence outcomes at the national level therefore reflect the reality of decision making in each of the U.S. District Courts. The purpose of this study is to test this assumption of national uniformity in sentencing. Using data on offenders sentenced in three U.S. District Courts in 1998, 1999, and 2000, we attempt to determine if--net of controls for offense seriousness, offender culpability, and other legally relevant factors--there are statistically significant differences in sentence severity. We also attempt to determine if the predictors of sentencing are invariant.

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Updated 05/20/2006