Study Of 600,000 Cases Finds Variations Among Federal Judges In Sentencing


A study of the federal judiciary reveals clear patterns in sentencing: Democrats and women are slightly more lenient. Where you're sentenced matters. Judges in the South are harsher; in the Northeast and on the West Coast, they are more easygoing, Columbia law Prof. Tim Wu writes for The New Yorker. The study was done by Crystal Yang, a fellow at the University of Chicago Law School, who based it on data from more than 600,000 defendants between 2000 and 2009.

She writes, “Female judges sentenced observably similar defendants to approximately 1.7 months less than their male colleagues.” Judges appointed by a Democratic President were 2.2 per cent more likely to exercise leniency. Controlling for cases and defendant types, “there is substantial variation in the sentence that a defendant would receive depending on the district court in which he is sentenced”—as much as eleven months, on average. The results are statistically significant, says Yang—and, if the differences sound relatively small, it is important to remember that she is measuring average differences. In straightforward cases, judges may issue similar rulings. In a hard case, the identity of the judge might make an important difference.

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