Volume: 23, Number: 5
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Vera and the Federal Sentencing Reporter share an approach to policy change that relies on information, analytical examination, and innovation. Rare among scholarly journals, the Federal Sentencing Reporter focuses—in its authorship and readership—on academics as well as practitioners. In its pages, conversations take place among judges, lawyers, policy makers, and scholars. The publication is an intellectual resource that people in the field turn to for solutions and that academics rely on to propose, learn about, and discuss new ideas. Each issue offers in-depth analysis on a wide range of topics related to sentencing policies and practices.
The Federal Sentencing Reporter is published five times a year. For each issue, Vera posts on its web site the “Editor’s Observations” (a regular feature that highlights the themes of the issue), a select article, and the table of contents. Other articles, subscription services, and archives are available through University of California Press.
Current Issue: Volume: 23, Number: 5
Legal and Social Science Research Approaches
The June issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter examines the role that research can play in understanding sentencing decisions and outcomes. Steven Chanenson suggests that the convergence of social science and legal approaches to sentencing is ripe for exploration. He is particularly interested in what data may reveal about prosecutorial decisions—choices made not only at the point of sentencing, but also when selecting initial charges, during plea bargaining, and when determining whether to decline prosecution. Many articles in this issue highlight the knowledge gap between research and policy, and explore questions that empirical data may not be able to answer, including the role of individual case-processing factors in analyzing sentencing decisions and the complex role each system actor plays in making those decisions.
Expanding the Empirical Picture of Federal Sentencing: An Invitation
Mona Lynch, professor of criminology, law and society, School of Social Ecology,
University of California, Irvine
Although Mona Lynch praises the rich, valuable data collected and analyzed by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, she questions whether its data set fully reflects the ways in which individual case-processing factors may have influenced sentencing outcomes prior to the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in United States v. Booker. (In Booker and subsequent cases, the Court allowed federal judges to regard the commission’s sentencing guidelines as advisory rather than mandatory.) Such factors include variations among districts in prosecutorial decisions about criminal charges, types of plea-bargain negotiations, and the relationship between courtroom actors in a given jurisdiction. Lynch argues that although individual factors continued to play a role in prosecutorial decision making under the federal sentencing guidelines, they have an even greater impact on sentencing post-Booker, given the enhanced discretion now allowed federal judges. Noting that recent research has shown an increase in sentencing disparities, Lynch worries that relying on quantitative data without examining contextual factors may result in greater reliance on the guidelines. She concludes with a call to increase qualitative research that examines the post-Booker changes in case processing, arguing that such examination will complement the continuing analysis of quantitative outcomes in federal cases.
Other articles in this issue
(available through University of California Press)
- Examining District Variation in Sentencing in the Post-Booker Period
Amy Farrell, associate director, Institute on Race and Justice, Northeastern University, and Geoff Ward, assistant professor of criminology, law and society and sociology, School of Social Ecology, University of California, Irvine
- Has Booker Restored Balance? A Look at Data on Plea Bargaining and Sentencing
Paul J. Hofer, sentencing policy analyst, Federal Public and Community Defenders, and adjunct assistant professor, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University
- Beyond Disparity: Changes in Federal Sentencing After Booker and Gall?
Jeffrey Ulmer, associate professor of sociology and crime, law, and justice, Penn State University, and Michael T. Light, PhD candidate, sociology and crime, law, and justice, Penn State University
- Reflections on a Systemic View of Sentencing and Punishment: Comments on Hofer and on Ulmer and Light
Carroll Seron, professor of criminology, law and society, and Sociology and Law, School of Social Ecology, University of California, Irvine
- Analysis of the Impact of Amendment to the Statutory Penalties for Crack Cocaine Offenses Made by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 and Corresponding Proposed Permanent Guideline Amendment if the Guideline Amendment Were Applied Retroactively
FSR Editor’s Note: This excerpt is a truncated version of a January 2011 report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission Office of Research and Data and Office of General Counsel analyzing the impact of applying the Fair Sentencing Act amendment retroactively. Original pagination is maintained for clarity but, because of space constraints, various figures, tables, Section III(E), and all of Section IV are omitted without further indication. Read the complete report.