31 Law & Soc'y Rev. 789 (1997)
Sentencing under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines: Effects of Defendant Characteristics, Guilty Pleas, and Departures on Sentence Outcomes for Drug Offenses, 1991-1992

handle is hein.journals/lwsocrw31 and id is 799 raw text is: Sentencing under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines:
Effects of Defendant Characteristics, Guilty Pleas, and
Departures on Sentence Outcomes for Drug Offenses,
1991-1992
Celesta A. Albonetti
The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 mandated major restructuring of fed-
eral sentencing through specific sentencing guidelines. New sentencing guide-
lines developed by the United States Sentencing Commission and adopted in
1987 explicitly linked sentencing to relevant conduct-offense characteris-
tics-and sought to abolish unwarranted sentence disparity. The guidelines
substantially reduced judicial discretion and resulted in a criminalization and
sentencing process that is largely prosecutor controlled. The author has gener-
ated hypotheses that relate defendant characteristics, guilty pleas, and depar-
tures from sentencing guidelines to sentence outcomes under the federal sen-
tencing guidelines. She first examined the variables influencing sentence
severity for the drug offenders who were sentenced in 1991-92. She then ex-
plored the interaction effects by estimating the tobit equation separately for
three groups-black, white, and Hispanic defendants-to discover whether de-
fendant's ethnicity conditions the effect of other defendant characteristics,
guidelines-defined legally relevant variables, guilty pleas, and departures on
sentence severity. Her analysis reveals that disparity in federal sentencing of
drug offenders is linked not only to offense-related variables, as structured by
the guidelines, but also to defendant characteristics such as ethnicity, gender,
educational level, and noncitizenship, which under the guidelines are specified
as legally irrelevant.
U       nder the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, Congress es-
tablished the United States Sentencing Commission and charged
it with the task of designing a sentencing structure that would
avoid unwarranted sentencing disparity among defendants with
similar records who had been found guilty of similar criminal
conduct (28 U.S.C. 991(b) (1) (B) (Supp. 1993)). In November
1987 the Federal Sentencing Guidelines were enacted. Among
social scientists, legal scholars, and court officials, the sentencing
guidelines ignited a debate over the legal and social conse-
The data are the U.S. Sentencing Commission Monitoring of Federal Criminal
Sentences, Computer file, 5th release (Washington: U.S. Sentencing Commission pro-
ducer; 1993. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Re-
search distributor). Neither the U.S. Sentencing Commission nor the Consortium is re-
sponsible for the analysis or interpretation presented here. I thank three anonymous
reviewers for comments on earlier drafts. Address correspondence to Celesta Albonetti,
Department of Sociology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-4351; e-mail:
albon@tamvm 1.tamu.edu.
Law & Society Review, Volume 31, Number 4 (1997)
 1997 by The Law and Society Association. All rights reserved.

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