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University of Michigan Law School

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Criminal Law

Law & Economics Working Papers

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Articles 1 - 3 of 3

Full-Text Articles in Law

Evidence-Based Sentencing And The Scientific Rationalization Of Discrimination, Sonja B. Starr Jan 2013

Evidence-Based Sentencing And The Scientific Rationalization Of Discrimination, Sonja B. Starr

Law & Economics Working Papers

This paper critiques, on legal and empirical grounds, the growing trend of basing criminal sentences on actuarial recidivism risk prediction instruments that include demographic and socioeconomic variables. I argue that this practice violates the Equal Protection Clause and is bad policy: an explicit embrace of otherwise-condemned discrimination, sanitized by scientific language. To demonstrate that this practice should be subject to heightened constitutional scrutiny, I comprehensively review the relevant case law, much of which has been ignored by existing literature. To demonstrate that it cannot survive that scrutiny and is undesirable policy, I review the empirical evidence underlying the instruments. I ...


Racial Disparity In The Criminal Justice Process: Prosecutors, Judges, And The Effects Of United States V. Booker, Sonja Starr, Marit Rehavi Nov 2012

Racial Disparity In The Criminal Justice Process: Prosecutors, Judges, And The Effects Of United States V. Booker, Sonja Starr, Marit Rehavi

Law & Economics Working Papers

Current empirical estimates of racial and other unwarranted disparities in sentencing suffer from two pervasive flaws. The first is a focus on the sentencing stage in isolation. Studies control for the “presumptive sentence” or closely related measures that are themselves the product of discretionary charging, plea-­‐bargaining, and fact-­‐finding processes. Any disparities in these earlier processes are built into the control variable, which leads to misleading sentencing-­‐disparity estimates. The second problem is specific to studies of sentencing reforms: they use loose methods of causal inference that do not disentangle the effects of reform from surrounding events and trends ...


Estimating Gender Disparities In Federal Criminal Cases, Sonja Starr Aug 2012

Estimating Gender Disparities In Federal Criminal Cases, Sonja Starr

Law & Economics Working Papers

This paper assesses gender disparities in federal criminal cases. It finds large gender gaps favoring women throughout the sentence length distribution (averaging over 60%), conditional on arrest offense, criminal history, and other pre-charge observables. Female arrestees are also significantly likelier to avoid charges and convictions entirely, and twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted. Prior studies have reported much smaller sentence gaps because they have ignored the role of charging, plea-bargaining, and sentencing fact-finding in producing sentences. Most studies control for endogenous severity measures that result from these earlier discretionary processes and use samples that have been winnowed by ...