Criminal Sentencing Essay

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An Exploration of Variation in Criminal Sentencing
It is an accepted fact that there is variation in the criminal justice system. Some of this difference is due to natural discrepancy in the severity of charges levied against a defendant; obviously those with severer or more numerous charges might also receive a longer or harsher criminal sentence. However, when the criminal charges are held constant, there emerges a pattern of variation that cannot be explained simply by a difference in severity or quantity. Extralegal factors, defined as variables that are not supposed to impact a sentencing decision, include race and ethnicity, sex, and age, and research has consistently demonstrated that these factors do play a hand in criminal proceedings. Specifically, these extralegal factors may influence pretrial detainment, the type of punishment defendants are given (e.g., a period of probation versus a prison term), and may even contribute to biased use of the death sentence. Evidence has also been presented that suggest, through various compilations of data, that these extralegal factors are not equivalent, either. The United States justice system, while presumed to be built on assumptions of fairness and equality, does not treat its defendants as equally as we would like to believe.
Extralegal factors, such as race and ethnicity, sex, and age, have certainly been found to influence the way defendants are treated. Perhaps more unexpectedly, factors like the perceived attractiveness of the defendant or victim, stereotypicality (i.e., the more physical characteristics resemble the stereotypical characteristics of a racial demographic), and jurors’ cognitive processing styles or working memory load can also have significant effe...

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...person for a criminal sentence.
There are still holes in judicial research, however, that make it difficult to paint a clear picture of what affects biases in the courtroom. Females receive lighter sentences statistically, but is this affected by their legal counsel, the evidence against them, or their criminal records, all legal factors that are considered by judges and juries alike? Research remains incomplete. A criminal should not be convicted simply because of their race, sex, age, or any other psychological variable that may interact with personal characteristics. The fact that we even see discrepancy in death penalty cases is alarming, and steps should be taken to mitigate biases. What steps should be taken, however, depends largely on the consistency of research findings, and until the full picture is available, policy suggestions may be ineffective.
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