The "Liberation" of Federal Judges' Discretion in the Wake of the Booker/Fanfan Decision: Is There Increased Disparity and Divergence between Courts?

Jeffery Ulmer, Michael T. Light, John Kramer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

52 Scopus citations

Abstract

The US Sentencing Guidelines are among the most ambitious attempts in history to control sentencing discretion. However, a major sea change occurred in January of 2005, when the US Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Booker and Fanfan, that in order to be constitutional, the federal guidelines must be advisory rather than presumptive. The impact of the Booker/Fanfan decisions on interjurisdictional variation and sentencing disparity is an opportunity to examine the issue of whether the increased opportunity to sentence according to substantively rational criteria entails increased extralegal disparity. We draw on a conceptualization of courts as communities and a focal concerns model of sentencing decisions to frame expectations about federal sentencing in the wake of Booker/Fanfan. We test these expectations using USSC data on federal sentencing outcomes from four time periods: prior to the 2003 PROTECT Act, the period governed by the PROTECT Act, post-Booker/Fanfan, and post-Gall v US. In general, we find that extralegal disparity and between-district variation in the effects of extralegal factors on sentencing have not increased post-Booker and Gall. We conclude that allowing judges greater freedom to exercise substantive rationality does not necessarily result in increased extralegal disparity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)799-837
Number of pages39
JournalJustice Quarterly
Volume28
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law

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