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THE TYRANNY OF QUANTITY: HOW THE OVEREMPHASIS ON DRUG QUANTITY IN FEDERAL DRUG SENTENCING LEADS TO DISPARATE AND ANOMALOUS SENTENCING OUTCOMES

Sevigny, Eric L. (2006) THE TYRANNY OF QUANTITY: HOW THE OVEREMPHASIS ON DRUG QUANTITY IN FEDERAL DRUG SENTENCING LEADS TO DISPARATE AND ANOMALOUS SENTENCING OUTCOMES. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh.

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    Abstract

    This dissertation examined evidence for disparate and anomalous drug sentencing outcomes arising from an overemphasis on drug quantity in the federal sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimums. Data from the 1997 Survey of Inmates in Federal Correctional Facilities were used to investigate the appropriateness of drug quantity as a measure of offense seriousness, the determinants of sentence length, mandatory minimum sentencing outcomes, and the application of firearm sentence enhancements in drug cases. The multivariate analyses employed a range of sentencing predictors, including measures of drug offense seriousness (e.g., drug type and quantity, role in the offense, firearm use), criminal history, case processing factors (e.g., guilty plea, charge bargaining), and sociodemographic characteristics (e.g., race, gender, citizenship). Methods employed to reduce bias and improve the efficiency of the model estimates included imputation of missing values to deal with item nonresponse, design-based estimation to account for the survey's complex sampling design, and truncated-censored regression to handle limited response on the dependent variable. The main findings revealed that (1) drug quantity—as a measure of harm—is a poor surrogate for culpability- and dangerousness-based offense factors, (2) the overemphasis on quantity results in excessive uniformity in sentencing and creates pressures for guideline evasion, (3) the current 100-to-1 quantity ratio between crack and powder cocaine fosters anomalous and disparate sentencing outcomes by targeting the least culpable crack cocaine offenders with the harshest sanctions, (4) quantity-driven mandatory minimums interact with the guidelines to create sentencing anomalies that fail to differentiate adequately between offenders of varying culpability and dangerousness, and (5) circumvention of firearm sentence enhancements appears to be driven by equity concerns over already severe drug sentences and case pressures to avoid trial. The clearest and most far-reaching implication of this research is that drug quantity is simply too blunt an instrument to meet the demands of principled sentencing. The major policy implication is that the central, organizing role of drug quantity in federal drug sentencing needs to be replaced with a more balanced approach that more equitably focuses on factors of harm, culpability, and dangerousness in assessing sentencing liability.


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    Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
    Creators/Authors:
    CreatorsEmailORCID
    Sevigny, Eric L.els21@pitt.edu
    ETD Committee:
    ETD Committee TypeCommittee MemberEmailORCID
    Committee ChairCoontz, Phyllis Dpcoontz@pitt.edu
    Committee MemberCaulkins, Jonathan Pcaulkins@andrew.cmu.edu
    Committee MemberNelson, Lisa Slnelson@birch.gspia.pitt.edu
    Committee MemberDunn, William Ndunn@pitt.edu
    Title: THE TYRANNY OF QUANTITY: HOW THE OVEREMPHASIS ON DRUG QUANTITY IN FEDERAL DRUG SENTENCING LEADS TO DISPARATE AND ANOMALOUS SENTENCING OUTCOMES
    Status: Unpublished
    Abstract: This dissertation examined evidence for disparate and anomalous drug sentencing outcomes arising from an overemphasis on drug quantity in the federal sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimums. Data from the 1997 Survey of Inmates in Federal Correctional Facilities were used to investigate the appropriateness of drug quantity as a measure of offense seriousness, the determinants of sentence length, mandatory minimum sentencing outcomes, and the application of firearm sentence enhancements in drug cases. The multivariate analyses employed a range of sentencing predictors, including measures of drug offense seriousness (e.g., drug type and quantity, role in the offense, firearm use), criminal history, case processing factors (e.g., guilty plea, charge bargaining), and sociodemographic characteristics (e.g., race, gender, citizenship). Methods employed to reduce bias and improve the efficiency of the model estimates included imputation of missing values to deal with item nonresponse, design-based estimation to account for the survey's complex sampling design, and truncated-censored regression to handle limited response on the dependent variable. The main findings revealed that (1) drug quantity—as a measure of harm—is a poor surrogate for culpability- and dangerousness-based offense factors, (2) the overemphasis on quantity results in excessive uniformity in sentencing and creates pressures for guideline evasion, (3) the current 100-to-1 quantity ratio between crack and powder cocaine fosters anomalous and disparate sentencing outcomes by targeting the least culpable crack cocaine offenders with the harshest sanctions, (4) quantity-driven mandatory minimums interact with the guidelines to create sentencing anomalies that fail to differentiate adequately between offenders of varying culpability and dangerousness, and (5) circumvention of firearm sentence enhancements appears to be driven by equity concerns over already severe drug sentences and case pressures to avoid trial. The clearest and most far-reaching implication of this research is that drug quantity is simply too blunt an instrument to meet the demands of principled sentencing. The major policy implication is that the central, organizing role of drug quantity in federal drug sentencing needs to be replaced with a more balanced approach that more equitably focuses on factors of harm, culpability, and dangerousness in assessing sentencing liability.
    Date: 14 August 2006
    Date Type: Completion
    Defense Date: 30 June 2006
    Approval Date: 14 August 2006
    Submission Date: 18 July 2006
    Access Restriction: No restriction; The work is available for access worldwide immediately.
    Patent pending: No
    Institution: University of Pittsburgh
    Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
    Refereed: Yes
    Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
    URN: etd-07182006-154904
    Uncontrolled Keywords: drug offenders; drug quantity; Inmate Surveys; mandatory minimums; sentencing
    Schools and Programs: Graduate School of Public and International Affairs > Public and International Affairs
    Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 14:52
    Last Modified: 19 Jun 2012 11:43
    Other ID: http://etd.library.pitt.edu/ETD/available/etd-07182006-154904/, etd-07182006-154904

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