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Modeling the Effects of Legally Relevant and Extralegal Factors Under Sentencing Guidelines: The Rules Have Changed

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 38 Issue: 4 Dated: November 2000 Pages: 1207-1229
Rodney L. Engen; Randy R. Gainey
Date Published
November 2000
23 pages
This research compared alternative techniques for modeling the effects of legally relevant variables on sentencing decisions under sentencing guidelines and tested whether the various techniques affected substantive conclusions about the impact of either legal or extralegal factors on sentencing outcomes in Washington.
Studies of sentencing in jurisdictions with sentencing guidelines have generally failed to specify adequately the effects of offense seriousness and criminal history, which are the main factors under law that should determine sentencing decisions. The result has been serious limitations on the explanatory power of those models and the possibility of bias in regression coefficients representing both legal and extralegal factors. The present analysis used an alternative approach to specify more precisely the effects of legally relevant factors on sentencing outcomes. The research tested this approach using felony sentencing data from Washington. Results revealed that controlling for the presumptive sentence substantially improved the fit and explanatory power of models that predict sentencing decisions and considerably reduced the estimated effects of the extralegal factors of sex and race. Findings have both substantive and methodological implications. Figures, tables, footnotes, and 31 references (Author abstract modified)