Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Criminal punishment and politics: Elected judges take tougher stance prior to elections

Date:
October 18, 2012
Source:
University of California - Berkeley Haas School of Business
Summary:
The last few months leading up to an election can be a critical, political game changer. One right or one wrong move can quickly change a candidate's standing at the polls. New research suggests that judges who are elected, rather than appointed, respond to this political pressure by handing down more severe criminal sentences -- as much as 10 percent longer -- in the last three months before an election compared with the beginning of their terms.

The last few months leading up to an election can be a critical, political game changer. One right or one wrong move can quickly change a candidate's standing at the polls. New research suggests that judges who are elected, rather than appointed, respond to this political pressure by handing down more severe criminal sentences -- as much as 10 percent longer -in the last three months before an election compared with the beginning of their terms.

Related Articles


"We can't say if more severe sentencing is better for society or worse, but our findings show us how political pressure can distort the sentencing process and can lead to starkly different sentences for similar criminals sentenced at different times," says Noam Yuchtman, assistant professor of business and public policy at the Haas School of Business.

Yuchtman and Carlos Berdej๓, associate professor of law, Loyola Law School, are co-authors of "Crime, Punishment, and Politics: Analysis of Political Cycles in Criminal Sentencing," forthcoming in the Review of Economics and Statistics.

The study examined the felony sentences of 265 full-time Superior Court judges between July 1995 and December 2006 in the state of Washington, covering three elections in 1996, 2000, and 2004. The authors focused on the most high-profile crimes such as murder, assault, rape, and robbery, which represent 6.7 percent of 18,447 sentences conferred. Case-specific controls included the defendant's age, gender, race, and prior criminal history, as well as an indicator of whether the sentence resulted from a plea agreement. The study also accounted for a number of potentially confounding variables such as changes in attorney behavior, case re-assignment, political cycles of other officials, and seasonal variations; for example, if more homicide sentencing hearings than usual happened to occur right before an election.

Yuchtman and Berdej๓ find that sentence lengths increase at the end of judges' political cycles, then sharply fall when their next term begins, only to rise again as their next election approaches.

Importantly, they do not find an increase in sentencing severity at the end of terms of judges who are not seeking re-election. Judges only increased the severity of their sentences at the end of a political cycle when they were facing re-election.

The findings also indicated that toward the end of their terms, judges tend to become more calculated in making their sentencing decisions, deviating from normal sentencing guidelines 50 percent more often at the end of the electoral cycle compared with the beginning. These deviations account for a large fraction of the harsher sentencing, suggesting that the influence of politics on sentencing crucially depends on the discretion judges have in sentencing.

History reveals that most judges are re-elected and don't even face competition at the polls. These findings from the state of Washington suggest that just the threat of political competition can affect behavior. "Judges may fear that a lenient sentence for a violent criminal might be turned into a political opportunity for an ambitious prosecutor seeking a harsher sentence," says Yuchtman.

Yuchtman and Berdej๓'s study helps to inform the debate on whether judges should be elected or appointed. The authors say while they cannot predict whether society would benefit from appointed-only judges across all jurisdictions, their results conclusively determine that sentencing patterns would differ.

Yuchtman says, "When you tell people in other countries that some American judges are elected, they are often shocked. Maybe they're right: we don't like to think of judges as being influenced by external pressure. On the other hand, our results suggest that elections do make judges feel accountable. This is a simple, but important, tradeoff."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Berkeley Haas School of Business. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of California - Berkeley Haas School of Business. "Criminal punishment and politics: Elected judges take tougher stance prior to elections." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 October 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121018103210.htm>.
University of California - Berkeley Haas School of Business. (2012, October 18). Criminal punishment and politics: Elected judges take tougher stance prior to elections. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121018103210.htm
University of California - Berkeley Haas School of Business. "Criminal punishment and politics: Elected judges take tougher stance prior to elections." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121018103210.htm (accessed November 23, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Science & Society News

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

European Parliament Might Call For Google's Break-Up

European Parliament Might Call For Google's Break-Up

Newsy (Nov. 22, 2014) — This is the latest development in an antitrust investigation accusing Google of unfairly prioritizing own products and services in search results. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
WFP: Ebola Risks Heightened Among Women Throughout Africa

WFP: Ebola Risks Heightened Among Women Throughout Africa

AFP (Nov. 21, 2014) — Having children has always been a frightening prospect in Sierra Leone, the world's most dangerous place to give birth, but Ebola has presented an alarming new threat for expectant mothers. Duration: 00:37 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Toyota's Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Green Car Soon Available in the US

Toyota's Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Green Car Soon Available in the US

AFP (Nov. 21, 2014) — Toyota presented its hydrogen fuel-cell compact car called "Mirai" to US consumers at the Los Angeles auto show. The car should go on sale in 2015 for around $60.000. It combines stored hydrogen with oxygen to generate its own power. Duration: 01:18 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Paralyzed Marine Walks With Robotic Braces

Raw: Paralyzed Marine Walks With Robotic Braces

AP (Nov. 21, 2014) — Marine Corps officials say a special operations officer left paralyzed by a sniper's bullet in Afghanistan walked using robotic leg braces in a ceremony to award him a Bronze Star. (Nov. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Science & Society

Business & Industry

Education & Learning

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins