U. S. Sentencing Commissions
This is the third edition of the United States Sentencing Commissions Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics. This Sourcebook contains descriptive statistics on the application of the federal sentencing guidelines and provides selected district, circuit, and national sentencing data. The volume covers fiscal year 1998 (October 1, 1997, through September 30, 1998, hereinafter 1998).
The Commission collects and analyzes data on guideline sentences to support its varied activities. As authorized by Congress, the Commissions numerous research responsibilities include: (1) the establishment of a research and development program to serve as a clearinghouse and information center for the collection, preparation, and dissemination of information on federal sentencing practices; (2) the publication of data concerning the sentencing process; (3) the systematic collection and dissemination of information concerning sentences actually imposed and the relationship of such sentences to the factors set forth in section 3553(a) of title 18, United States Code; and (4) the systematic collection and dissemination of information regarding the effectiveness of sentences imposed (28 U.S.C. § 995(a)).
The Sentencing Commission maintains a comprehensive, computerized data collection system which forms the basis for its clearinghouse of federal sentencing information and which, in large part, drives the agencys research mission. Pursuant to its authority under 28 U.S.C.
§§ 994(w) and 995(a)(8), and after discussions with the Judicial Conference Committee on Criminal Law and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the Commission requested that each probation office in each judicial district submit the following documents on every offender sentenced under the guidelines:
- Presentence Report (PSR)
- Report on the Sentencing Hearing (statement of reasons for imposing sentence as required by 18 U.S.C. § 3553(c))
- Written Plea Agreement (if applicable)
- Judgment of Conviction
Data from these documents are extracted and coded for input into various databases. It should be noted that data collection is a dynamic rather than a static process. When research questions arise, the Commission either analyzes existing data or adds information to its monitoring system.
The Commissions computerized datasets, without individual identifiers, are available via tape and the Internet through the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan (ICPSR).
For each case in its Offender Dataset, the Commission routinely collects case identifiers, sentencing data, demographic variables, statutory information, the complete range of court guideline decisions, and departure information. Throughout 1998, the Commission continued to add data elements to its extensive computerized datafile on defendants sentenced under the guidelines.
The Commissions 1998 USSC Offender Dataset contains documentation on 50,754 cases sentenced under the Sentencing Reform Act between October 1, 1997, and September 30, 1998. A case is defined as one sentencing event for an individual defendant. While the 1998 reporting year includes cases sentenced between October 1, 1997, and September 30, 1998, it is important to note that the data collected and analyzed in the 1998 Annual Report and 1998 Sourcebook of Sentencing Statistics reflect only cases reported to the Commission (i.e., guidelines cases for which the courts forwarded appropriate documentation to the Commission by February 22, 1999). Consequently, if a court fails to forward documentation on a case to the Commission, the agency will not have a record of that particular sentencing. This reliance on physical receipt of court records by the Commission allows for three potential areas of guideline case underreporting: (1) court failure to submit case documentation; (2) a misunderstanding of the types of cases to be submitted; and (3) cases lost in-transit between a court and the Commission.
The Organizational Dataset captures information on organizations sentenced under Chapter Eight of the guidelines. The data collected describe organizational structure, size, and economic viability; offense of conviction; mode of adjudication; sanctions imposed; and application of the sentencing guidelines. The Commission received information on 218 organizations that were sentenced under Chapter Eight of the sentencing guidelines in 1998.
The Appeals Dataset tracks appellate review of sentencing decisions. Information captured in this module includes district, circuit, dates of appeal and opinion, legal issues, and the courts disposition. In addition to its standard data collection, the Commission often codes additional variables to study various discrete issues (e.g., immigration offenses, child sex offenses). The Commission also tracks final opinions and orders, both published and unpublished, in federal criminal appeals. During 1998, the Commission supplemented these opinions and orders with cases available on computerized legal databases and with habeas corpus decisions (although technically civil matters) because such cases often involve sentencing issues. In 1998, the Commission gathered information on 6,387 appellate court cases of which 2,733 were conviction only cases.
The appeals data system uses both the group and the defendant units of analysis. Each group comprises individual records representing all codefendants participating in a consolidated appeal. Each defendants record comprises the sentencing-related issues corresponding to that particular defendant. These records, linked together by a unique Commission-assigned appeals identification number, constitute a single group.
Tables and Figures