Extra-Legal Characteristics and Sentencing Disparity Among Federal Drug Offenders

Date of Award

Fall 2008

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Sociology & Criminal Justice


Applied Sociology

Committee Director

Xiushi Yang

Committee Member

William Agyei

Committee Member

Victoria Time

Call Number for Print

Special Collections LD4331.S62 G348 2008


The development of the federal sentencing guidelines was made as an attempt to provide a uniform standard of sentencing procedure for defendants convicted within the federal legal system. Unfortunately, such unvarying policy has over the years birthed a system of sentencing that lacks equality among like defendants. The Supreme Court, in 2005, ruled that the sentencing guidelines were no longer to be compulsory during sentencing procedures, but rather act as an ancillary tool. The present study examines multiple legal and extra-legal variables and their influence on two aspects of imprisonment probability for federal drug offenders for the years of 1999-2006: in-out decisions and length of sentence received. The current study discovered sentencing disparity in terms of race/ethnicity, gender, educational attainment, as well as several other legal characteristics. The study also examined specific sentencing years in an attempt to gauge the climate of disparity and its impact on the likelihood of incarceration for federally sentenced offenders. The fact that the results indicate that multiple areas of potential sentencing inequality continue to persist is evident enough that a guideline based system continues to offer very little in terms of a final solution to ridding the judicial process of its inherent biases.


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