Is the Offense Serious Axis Free of Extralegal Influence?: Assessing the Predictors of a ‘Legally Relevant’ Guideline Criterion



Grid based sentencing guidelines, composed of offense seriousness and offender criminal history axis, have become a staple of US sentencing in recent decades. As such, extensive research explores whether they reduce extralegal sentence disparity. However, to date, no study has examined whether extralegal disparity is present in how either axis of guideline sentencing are constructed. Using federal sentencing commission data along with both single and multi-level analyses, this research explores the legal and extralegal factors that predict one of these key grid axes: the offense seriousness score. The results call into question not only some assumptions underlying guideline sentencing but also recent analytical strategies for assessing sentencing outcomes in guideline systems.


Sentencing guidelines Offense seriousness Extralegal disparity 


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© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of CriminologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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