Racial Disparity, Judges and Prosecutors in United States v. Booker
Date:  12-18-2012

Study claims racial disparity reduced by Booker, not increased
A new paper,Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice Process: Prosecutors, Judges and the Effects of United States v. Booker, written by Sonja B. Starr and M. Marit Rehavi, claims that there are two “pervasive flaws” in estimating racial disparities in sentencing. Starr and Rehavi list them as:

  • "...I have a focus on the sentencing stage in isolation. Studies control for the “presumptive sentence” or closely related measures that are themselves the product of discretionary charging, plea-bargaining, and fact-finding processes. Any disparities in these earlier processes are built into the control variable, which leads to misleading sentencing-disparity estimates."

  • “…studies of sentencing reforms: they use loose methods of causal inference that do not disentangle the effects of reform from surrounding events and trends."

    Reentry Central offers a link to Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice Process after providing the following brief introduction of the issues surrounding the Booker case:

    Freddie Joe Booker was arrested in 2003 when police found him in possession of 92.5 grams of crack cocaine, which carried the penalty of a minimum of 10 years in prison, with a maximum sentence of life. The jury convicted Booker of possession, with intent to sell, under the statute for possessing with intent of distributing between 50 and 100 grams of cocaine base.

    While in custody Booker admitted to selling another 566 grams of crack, and it was this amount, well over the 100 gram statute that the jury convicted him of possessing, for which the judge sentenced him. His penalty, under federal guidelines, increased to a 30 year minimum, to a maximum of life. Booker received a 30 year sentence.

    Booker appealed his sentence enhancement, asserting that his Sixth Amendment Rights were violated, because the judge used facts to enhance his sentence outside the range of the jury’s findings. Although the Court ruled that Booker’s conviction would stand, it issued a decision that claimed that the way the federal sentencing guidelines were applied was in violation of the Sixth Amendment, and Booker’s sentence was reversed.

    Because most of the individuals convicted of selling crack were black, and were sentenced far more harshly than their white counterparts, who sold greater amounts of powder cocaine but received lesser sentences for doing so, the issue of racial disparity in sentencing was raised.

    Source: The Sentencing Project Race and Justice News
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