Sociology ETDs

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Judicial discretion plays an important role in the sentencing process. Unrestrained discretion has the potential to lead to unwarranted disparity in sentencing outcomes. In an effort to constrain some of that discretion, the Federal Sentence Guidelines were implemented in 1987 so that judges were to consider just an offenders criminal history and the severity of the offense when determining sentences. In the 2005 Supreme Court case United States v. Booker, these guidelines were ruled unconstitutional and in violation of the 6th Amendment. This dissertation examines sentencing outcomes in the wake of this landmark decision. Using data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, this dissertation examines the ways that extra-legal characteristics (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender, and age) may influence sentencing outcomes net of legally-relevant characteristics (criminal history and offense severity) both before and after the Booker decision. Moreover, this dissertation also examines the extent to which social context (e.g., political climate, community characteristics, and administrative variables) may influence sentencing outcomes. Finally, it examines how both individual-level and aggregate-level characteristics may interact to influence sentencing outcomes. Results indicate that the majority of the 'action' occurs at the individual level, however, aggregate-level characteristics contextualize the individual-level in important ways. Implications are discussed.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Velez, Maria

Second Committee Member

Sidhu, Dawinder


Federal Sentencing, Judicial Discretion, Race/Ethnicity, Gender



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