Date of Award

Summer 2000

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Sociology & Criminal Justice


Applied Sociology

Committee Director

Randy Gainey

Committee Member

Donald H. Smith

Committee Member

Otto C. Sampson

Call Number for Print

Special Collections LD4331.S62 D88


This study was designed to explore the hypothesized gap between what state guidelines on criminal sanctioning recommend for misdemeanor offenses, and what the public perceives· as just punishment for these offenses. The research also addresses the issue of victimless crime. In this regard it was additionally hypothesized that there exists a significant difference in public opinion towards sentencing those crimes that specifically do not have a victim, with those that do.

The design of this study is based on one conducted by Peter Rossi and Richard Berk (Rossi and Berk 1997). For this study, a sample of students attending college classes in Virginia, as well as a sample group from the American Legion Association were given 12 short vignettes, depicting a criminal offense. The respondents,. after reading a vignette were asked to choose from a range of sentences, (including those that would be structured within the guidelines), which sentence they felt was the most appropriate. The data collected from these surveys were then used in bivariate analyses to compare the public responses to the guideline recommendations.

From the results of the analysis, it was found that nearly all the responses fell within the guideline range. This would indicate that within the range available to Virginia judges in the sentencing of misdemeanor offenses, public opinion is consistent with the guidelines. Nevertheless, the figures do indicate that sizable proportions of the sample hold values that are divergent from the guidelines. An examination of the results clearly indicates that the presence or absence of a discernible victim is significant in determining the public view on the appropriate sentence for the crime. In other words, the crimes that contained no victim, were the crimes that received proportionately lesser sentences from the sample.


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