NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

NBER Working Papers by Shawn Bushway

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Working Papers

April 2011Sentencing Guidelines and Judicial Discretion: Quasi-experimental Evidence from Human Calculation Errors
with Emily G. Owens, Anne Morrison Piehl: w16961
There is a debate about whether advisory non-binding sentencing guidelines affect the sentences outcomes of individuals convicted in jurisdictions with this sentencing framework. Identifying the impact of sentencing guidelines is a difficult empirical problem because court actors may have preferences for sentencing severity that are correlated with the preferences that are outlined in the guidelines. But, in Maryland, ten percent of the recommended sentences computed in the guideline worksheets contain calculation errors. We use this unique source of quasi-experimental variation to quantify the extent to which sentencing guidelines influence policy outcomes. Among drug offenses, we find that the direct impact of the guidelines is roughly ½ the size of the overall correlation between recom...

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