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Racial Disparities in Sentencing: Black Males Punished Most Severely

The United States Sentencing Commission has released its study on demographic differences in federal sentencing, and the results are sobering.  The Commission, which studied all federal sentences imposed from October 2011 through September 2016, found that sentence length continues to be associated with certain demographic factors – particularly race and gender.  On the whole, Black male offenders continue to receive longer sentences than similarly situated White male offenders, and female offenders of all races receive shorter sentences than White male offenders.  Sentences below the advisory Sentencing Guidelines range (when not sponsored by the Government) contribute significantly to the difference in sentence length between Black male and White male offenders.  That is, Black male offenders are substantially less likely than White male offenders to receive a below-Guidelines sentence pursuant to a departure or variance.  And even when they do receive one, their sentences are longer than White male offenders who are similarly situated.

Some key facts from the Commission’s study:

  • Black male offenders receive sentences, on average, 19% longer than similarly situated White male offenders.
  • Hispanic male offenders receive sentences that are 5% longer than White male offenders.
  • Female offenders of all races receive shorter sentences than White male offenders.
  • Non-citizen offenders receive longer sentences than United States citizens.
  • Black male offenders are more than 20% less likely than White male offenders to receive a non-government sponsored downward departure or variance.  When Black male offenders do receive such a departure or variance, their sentences are still, on average, nearly 17% longer than White male offenders who receive the same consideration.
  • When sentenced within the applicable Guidelines range, Black male offenders have a sentence length nearly 8% longer than White male offenders.
  • Prior violent crimes do not significantly contribute to the demographic differences in federal sentencing.

The Commission’s findings plainly demonstrate that Black and Hispanic males continue to be treated most harshly under our federal criminal justice system.  Despite recognizing this disparate treatment of similarly situated offenders, the Commission failed to offer any recommendations in its report to remedy the inequity.  Consequently, it remains the responsibility of skilled criminal defense lawyers to effectively advocate at sentencing to reduce or eliminate these disparities.  If you or a loved one find yourself in need of a skilled federal criminal defense lawyer, please contact Lee Metzger at (859) 394-6200 or [email protected].

The full text of the Commission’s Report can be found here: https://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/research-and-publications/research-publications/2017/20171114_Demographics.pdf

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