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Federal Sentencing Guidelines and Mandatory Minimum Sentences: Do Defendants Bargain in the Shadow of the Judge?

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  • LaCasse, Chantale
  • Payne, A Abigail

Abstract

The 1987 sentencing reforms were expected to change profoundly the environment in which plea bargaining takes place by increasing the average length of sentences for serious crimes and by eliminating the variation in sentences imposed by different judges. Using cases initiated and resolved between 1981 and 1995 in two federal district courts of New York, we examine whether the variation in sentences attributable to individual judges has been eliminated, and we investigate whether the plea-bargaining behavior of defendants has changed. Surprisingly, we find that the amount of variation attributable to the judge for trial sentences increases post-reforms. Consistent with this result, defendants continue to bargain in the shadow of the judge post-reforms, particularly for crimes involving minimum sentences. Further, sentences may not have increased as much as expected: although the average prison term for trial sentences increases post-reforms, there is no systematic increase in the average length of the pleas. Copyright 1999 by the University of Chicago.

Suggested Citation

  • LaCasse, Chantale & Payne, A Abigail, 1999. "Federal Sentencing Guidelines and Mandatory Minimum Sentences: Do Defendants Bargain in the Shadow of the Judge?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(1), pages 245-269, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:v:42:y:1999:i:1:p:245-69
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/467425
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    Cited by:

    1. Thomas J. Miceli, 2008. "Criminal Sentencing Guidelines And Judicial Discretion," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 26(2), pages 207-215, April.
    2. Entorf, Horst, 2011. "Crime, Prosecutors, and the Certainty of Conviction," IZA Discussion Papers 5670, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Ascione, Aurora & Motta, Massimo, 2008. "Settlements in cartel cases," MPRA Paper 24416, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. repec:kap:revind:v:52:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1007_s11151-017-9572-1 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Kristin F. Butcher & Kyung H. Park & Anne Morrison Piehl, 2017. "Comparing Apples to Oranges: Differences in Women’s and Men’s Incarceration and Sentencing Outcomes," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 35(S1), pages 201-234.
    6. Richard T. Boylan, 2004. "Do the Sentencing Guidelines Influence the Retirement Decisions of Federal Judges?," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(1), pages 231-253, January.
    7. Max Schanzenbach, 2005. "Racial and Sex Disparities in Prison Sentences: The Effect of District-Level Judicial Demographics," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 34(1), pages 57-92, January.
    8. Shepherd, Joanna M, 2002. "Police, Prosecutors, Criminals, and Determinate Sentencing: The Truth about Truth-in-Sentencing Laws," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 45(2), pages 509-534, October.
    9. Joshua B. Fischman & Max M. Schanzenbach, 2011. "Do Standards of Review Matter? The Case of Federal Criminal Sentencing," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 40(2), pages 405-437.
    10. Bjerk, David, 2005. "Making the Crime Fit the Penalty: The Role of Prosecutorial Discretion under Mandatory Minimum Sentencing," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 48(2), pages 591-625, October.
    11. Horst Entorf & Hannes Spengler, 2008. "Is Being 'Soft on Crime' the Solution to Rising Crime Rates?: Evidence from Germany," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 837, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    12. Nutting Andrew W., 2017. "Preferences Toward Leniency under Mandatory Criminal Sentencing Guidelines: Role-in-the-Offense Adjustments for Federal Drug Trafficking Defendants," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 17(1), pages 1-18, February.
    13. Isaac Ehrlich, 2010. "The Market Model of Crime: A Short Review and New Directions," Chapters,in: Handbook on the Economics of Crime, chapter 1 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    14. Max M. Schanzenbach, 2015. "Racial Disparities, Judge Characteristics, and Standards of Review in Sentencing," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 171(1), pages 27-47, March.
    15. Mustard, David B, 2001. "Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Disparities in Sentencing: Evidence from the U.S. Federal Courts," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(1), pages 285-314, April.
    16. Richard T. Boylan, 2012. "The Effect of Punishment Severity on Plea Bargaining," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 55(3), pages 565-591.
    17. Hüschelrath, Kai & Laitenberger, Ulrich, 2015. "The settlement procedure in EC cartel cases: An empirical assesment," ZEW Discussion Papers 15-064, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
    18. Michael Hellwig & Kai Hüschelrath & Ulrich Laitenberger, 2018. "Settlements and Appeals in the European Commission’s Cartel Cases: An Empirical Assessment," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer;The Industrial Organization Society, vol. 52(1), pages 55-84, February.

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