Racial Bias in Sentencing Do Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

It is not known if the bias found among males also exists among women. This study will address both the gap in methodology and the lack of studies regarding women. It will contribute to the existing body of evidence by filling in these important gaps.


Valid research is based on consistency and a mutual understanding of the research parameters. Although, many of the terms used in this study will be familiar to the layperson, it is important to understand exactly what is meant so that precise understanding of the variables in the study can be understood. The following operational definitions will be used throughout this research project.

African-American - This term will refer to any person of African-American decent. It will be used to describe those that are of a high percentage of African-American ancestry, as well as those of low percentage or mixed ancestry, but who identify themselves as primarily culturally African.

A drug possession -This includes any misdemeanor crime that is associated with the possession of a controlled substance including marijuana, cocaine, heroine, or the misuse of prescription narcotics such as oxycontin. It does not include crimes such as trafficking or possession of amounts that warrant that the crime be considered a felony. It will not include cases where the charges were negotiated down from the felony to a misdemeanor.

Caucasian - This refers to anyone of European, Canadian, or U.S. decent. It does not include those of Hispanic, Native American, or Asian Decent.

A criminal mischief - This refers to any crime labeled as criminal mischief. This category encompasses a large array of activities and is determined by the arresting officer and the court system.

A disorderly conduct - This term refers to anyone charged of a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge, regardless of the circumstances that led to their arrest.

A domestic violence - Domestic violence refers to conviction of a misdemeanor of domestic violence. These cases are of particular interest, as they may involve mitigating circumstances of self-defense.

A harassment - This term will not include alleged harassment that did not lead to a conviction by the court system. Only cases where a conviction for harassment was attained will be included in this study.

Menacing - Only cases where a conviction for menacing is attained will be considered in this research study. Those for which allegations did not stand will not be included in the study.

Sentence - Sentence refers to the punishment awarded by the judge upon prior to any appeals. It does not reflect whether or not the sentence was actually served by the defendant, it reflects the initial sentence awarded by the judge. This also does not include any reductions in sentence, only the initial punishment awarded.

A theft - Theft includes any crime that involves the taking of another's property. For the purposes of this study, only crimes considered a misdemeanor will be considered. Only crimes for which the defendant was convicted will be considered. Those cases of theft involving dollar amounts or property high enough to be considered felonies will not be included in this study.

A trespass - Trespass means entering another's property without permission, it also means refusing to leave when that person asks that one do so. As with the other crime categories, only cases that were successfully prosecuted and sentenced will be included.


There are several methods that could be used to conduct this study. The first method, and one commonly found in the literature consists of a records search. However, there are many factors that this records search may not reveal, that are relevant to the study. For instance, one will not find racial information on many of the parties present, including the judge. This information is considered vital to achieving the purpose of the intended study.

There are many ethical considerations regarding this type of subject matter. The study involves confidential information and many factors that would be considered of sensitive nature. Therefore, the only ethical way to obtain the needed information will be to obtain if from the individual, with their permission. The participant will be in control of any personal information obtained.

Many studies that address racial bias among male offenders used records search as their primary research tool. However, there are many underlying factors that this type of method may miss, but that is relevant to the intended research study. For instance, one may not know the race of the prosecutor or defender in the case, or the race of the "victim." These factors are important, but would not be revealed in a records search.


Participants for this study will consist of 200 women, identified through court record searches that have been convicted of one of the listed crimes. Women will be between the ages of 18-50 years old. Due to privacy issues, the women chosen will enrolled in the probation/parole system in counties in and surrounding the study location. They will be contracted through the probation office/parole office and asked to participate in the survey. They will be instructed that participation is not mandatory and that they will receive no consequence for their choice to participate or not to participate in the study.

Other than making certain that the women chosen meet the criteria for participation in the study, the researcher will not have control over the sample population. A random sampling technique will be used. Two groups of women will be recruited for the study. They will consist 100 Caucasian women and 100 African-American women within the required age for participation in the study. They will have been convicted for one of the crimes listed in the study definitions.

In order to avoid bias in the sample population, several exclusionary criteria will be used in the selection of study participants. Women that have severe mental illness requiring hospitalization will not be included in the study. Women that have moderate to severe mental retardation will not be considered for the study. Only women that have been convicted of the crime for which they were accused will be included in the study.

Only women that have been convicted of a single crime will be included. For instance, those that are convicted for multiple crimes related to the same event will not be included. An example of this would be a women that was convicted of trespassing, theft and criminal mischief will not be considered. The final criteria is that all women in the study must be first time offenders. Those that have been convicted on multiple occasions in the past will not be considered, as they would be expected to receive harsher penalties than a first time offender. These criteria are expected to even the playing field so that bias in the sentencing decision are eliminated as much as possible.


After selection of the study participants, women will be asked to participate in the research study. Their parole or probation officer will administer the survey at one of the required visits. After the required number of surveys have been completed in the two groups, the researcher will collect the surveys from the probation/parole officer. No identifying marks or personal information will be included on the surveys. Participants will sign a release prior to completing the survey in order to make certain that their privacy is not violated. The remainder of the study will rely on data analysis and interpretation.

Due to privacy issues, the researcher will not be permitted to view personal files of study participants. All needed information will be derived from the survey instrument itself. All disclosure of information will be on a voluntary basis.


The survey will ask the participants several questions regarding the circumstances and results of their conviction and the initial sentence that they received. The answers to these questions will be included in the survey itself. The survey and cover letter can be found in the Appendix of this proposal.

The survey instrument will be developed by the researcher, as no similar instruments could be found. This study will be subject to several limitations stemming form both internal and external sources. The first limitation is the applicability of the study results. Specific criteria will be used to determine test participants. Therefore, results are only valid for study groups that are similar to the test group. Several threats to the internal validity of the study exist. For instance, women may feel intimidated by the nature of the questions and fear that they may receive retaliation for their answers. This could affect their honesty and willingness to answer the survey questions. The participants will be assured that their answers will in no way lead to any consequences. Strict measures will be taken to assure their confidentiality.

Another factor that may influence the results obtained is that the judge's personal opinion and experiences may affect the case. However, this influence may not necessarily be for reasons of race discrimination. Some judges may consider certain crimes more heinous than others. The attitude…

Sources Used in Document:


Hart, C. & Lopez, E. (2007). Evaluation of the Race Card Strategy: The Importance of Supporting Evidence. Journal of Credibility Assessment and Witness Psychology. 8 (1): 1-9. Retrieved March 14, 2009 at http://truth.boisestate.edu/jcaawp/2007_1_9/2007_1_9.pdf

Hernandez-Julian, R. & Tomic, a. (2006). How Elected Judges Respond to the Racial Composition of their Constituencies. Retrieved March 14, 2009 at http://ssrn.com/abstract=890738

Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (2005). Answering the Call for a More Diverse Judiciary. Retrieved March 14, 2009 at http://www.abanet.org/buslaw/2005minoritylawyer/materials/jdr.pdf

Mitchell, T., Haw, R., & Pfeifer, J. (2005). Racial Bias in Mock Juror Decision-Making: A Meta- Analytic Review of Defendant Treatment. Law and Human Behavior. 29-96): 621-637. Retrieved March 14, 2009 at http://digitalcommons.utep.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1016&context=christian_meissner

Cite This Thesis:

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