A Study of the Recorder's Court: Does Sentencing Disparity Exist and if so, Why? Open Access

Nagin, Nicole Lyn (2012)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/k643b196k?locale=en


A Study of the Recorder's Court:
Does Sentencing Disparity Exist and if so, Why?
The judiciary, unlike the legislature, is not designed to be responsive to the desires of the
people; rather its role is to decide disputes consistent with the Constitution and laws. In criminal cases,
courts determine the validity of charges brought against a defendant. Some individuals are found
innocent and can walk away from the court unscathed, while other defendants are judged guilty of a
crime and sentenced. In all situations, sentences affect how citizens view the judiciary. This perception is
significant because the judiciary's authority depends upon the public's belief in the legitimacy of the
courts. Although designed to make decisions on the basis of law, history demonstrates that other
characteristics can influence sentencing outcomes made by the judiciary. Since the early 1920s, social
scientists have tried to explain sentencing disparity where similarly situated defendants receive unequal
penalties There are three theories that describe how sentencing outcomes can be reached. The first
theory explains that a defendant's race and gender determines how the court imposes sentences due to
continued racial discrimination and gender bias in the judicial system. The second theory, judicial
background characteristics, states that that the background of the judge, including race and gender,
influences sentencing outcomes. The final theory, judicial socialization, runs counter to the background
characteristic theory. This theory states that because all judges go through the same socialization
process (i.e. legal education, judicial norms in court), their decisions are made in the same way and are
not influenced by their backgrounds . The purpose of this study is to test the applicability of these three
different approaches in understanding sentencing outcomes in the context of the Recorder's Court.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Theories of Sentencing Disparity Pg. 1
Chapter 2: Recorder's Court Pg. 17
Chapter 3: Research Design Pg. 23
Chapter 4: Results Pg. 30
Chapter 5: Conclusion & Further Research Pg. 55

Table of Graphs and Tables
Graph 1: 2008 Traffic Violation Caseload Nationwide Pg. 17
Chart 1: Process of Arraignment Appearance Pg. 20
Chart 2: Options for Sentences Pg. 25

Table 1: Background Characteristics: Judge Race and Gender Pg. 31
Table 2: Defendant's Characteristics Pg. 33
Table 3: Judicial Socialization Pg. 36
Table 4: Sentencing Outcomes Pg. 37
Table 5: Pleas and Sentence Outcomes without Lawyers Pg. 39
Table 6: State Minimum Requirement by Judge with Sentence Outcome Pg. 40
Table 7: State Minimum Requirement by Defendant's Characteristics with Sentence Outcome Pg. 41
Table 8: State Minimum Requirement by Judicial Socialization & Sentence Outcome Pg. 42
Table 9: Sentence Outcomes with State Minimum Requirement Pg. 44
Table 10: Judicial Background Characteristics and Sentencing Pg. 45
Table 11: Defendant's Characteristics and Sentencing Pg. 46
Table 12: Hispanic Sentence Outcomes with Translators Pg. 47
Table 13: Sentence outcome by Judge by Defendant's Race Pg. 49
Table 14: Sentence outcome by Judge by Gender of the Defendant Pg. 51
Table 15: Judicial Socialization & Sentencing Pg. 52
Table 16: Judge by Violation Type Pg. 53
Table 17: Sentence Outcomes of Ordinance Violations & Non-Ordinance Violations for Judge C Pg. 54
Table 18: Results of the Study Pg. 55
Appendix Pg. 62
Bibliography Pg. 63

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