(Published January 8, 2019) This report examines variations in sentencing practices—and corresponding variations in sentencing outcomes—in the federal courts since the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in United States v. Booker. The United States Sentencing Commission analyzed the sentencing practices of federal district judges in 30 major cities located throughout the country to determine the extent of the judges’ variations in imposing sentences in relation to the city average.
This report is the second in a series of reports updating the analyses and findings of the Commission’s 2012 Report on the Continuing Impact of United States v. Booker on Federal Sentencing.
Browse by Section:
- Demographic Differences in Sentencing: An Update of the 2012 Booker Report (November 2017)
- 2012 Report to the Congress: Continuing Impact of United States v. Booker on Federal Sentencing (December 2012)
Although the trend of increasing differences among judges slowed after 2011, the increasing differences in sentencing practices first reported at the district level in the Commission’s 2012 Booker Report generally persist to this day, even within the same courthouse. In particular, the Commission finds that:
- From the Booker to Gall Periods, 23 of the 30 cities had increases in their total spreads, and 22 of 27 cities (those with at least five judges in all three periods) had increases in their standard deviations. From the Gall to the Post-Report Periods, 20 of the 30 cities had increases in their total spreads, and 16 of the 27 cities (those with at least five judges in all periods) had increases in their standard deviations, although the magnitude of the increases was less than the magnitude of the increases from the Booker Period to the Gall Period.
- In terms of the overall changes during the 13 years, from the Booker Period to the Post-Report Period, 25 of the 30 cities saw a net increase in their total spreads and 23 cities of the 27 with reported standard deviations saw a net increase in their standard deviations.
- Considering all 30 cities together as a representative sample of the country as a whole, the average total spreads for all 30 cities in the three periods increased from 18.2 in the Booker Period to 23.7 in the Gall Period to 27.6 in the Post-Report Period. The average standard deviations for the 27 cities (those with at least five judges) grew from 5.8 to 7.7 to 8.3 during the same three periods.
- In most cities, the length of a defendant’s sentence increasingly depends on which judge in the courthouse is assigned to his or her case.