Static and Dynamic Indicators of Minority Threat in Sentencing Outcomes: A Multi-Level Analysis

Abstract

Designation as a “Habitual Offender” is an enhanced form of punishment which unlike, “Three Strikes” or “10-20-Life,” is entirely discretionary. We use Hierarchical Generalized Linear Modeling to assess the direct effects of race and Latino ethnicity on the designation of Habitual Offenders as well as the effect of both static and dynamic indicators of racial and ethnic threat on those outcomes. Our data include 26,740 adults sentenced to prison in Florida between 2002 and 2004 who were statutorily eligible to be sentenced as Habitual. The odds of receiving this designation are significantly increased for black and Latino defendants as compared to whites, though race and ethnicity effects vary substantially by crime type, being strongest for drug offenses and negligible for violent crimes. Static measures of group level threat (% black and % Latino) have no cross-level effect on sentencing by race or Latino ethnicity. However, increasing black population over time increases the odds of being sentenced as Habitual for both black and Latino defendants. Increasing Latino population increases the odds of Habitual Offender sentencing for Latinos, but decreases it for blacks. The prospect of engaging dynamic as opposed to static measures of threat in future criminal justice and other social control research is discussed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    10-20-Life is a mandatory sentencing provision in Florida that applies mandatory minimum sentences to felons who used a firearm during the commission of their crime.

  2. 2.

    While we have elected to use the tern “Latino” in the present research, we are using “Hispanic” here since that was the term used in the Crow and Johnson (2008) study.

  3. 3.

    Three other provisions also qualify defendants for the Career Offender status. Those are Prison Releasee Reoffender, Violent Career Criminals and Three Time Felony Offender.

  4. 4.

    Overall, 7 cases were eliminated due to missing a value for age.

  5. 5.

    Extensive discussion with State Attorneys has made it clear that Habitual Offender designation is almost always a decision made by the prosecutor and not the judge. In cases decided by a negotiated plea (about 90% of felony convictions) the judge plays no role in this regard. In the approximately 10% of cases with an open plea in court or decided by trial, the judge is decisive and it is estimated that in about 20% of those, the judge may overturn the recommendation for Habitual Offender designation. So approximately 98% of the outcomes of interest here are determined by prosecutorial discretion. Unfortunately, there are no data available for these preliminary stages of the process. As such, we are unable to identify the cases that may have been overturned by a judge.

  6. 6.

    Florida’s sentencing guidelines system allocates points for all current offenses, as well as all offenses that resulted in a prior conviction. Points ranging from 4 to 116 are assigned to the primary offense based on the specific guideline level while additional points could be accrued on the basis of circumstantial factors such as victim injury, domestic violence, threats to law enforcement personnel and the use of select firearms. Offenses other than the primary offense in the current sentencing event receive lower point assignments from a similar scoring system to that described above. Prior conviction points are assigned for both felonies and misdemeanors committed as either a juvenile or adult in state, federal, military or foreign courts. If an individual has not been convicted of any offenses for at least 10 years prior to the current offense, no points are allocated for those prior offenses.

  7. 7.

    The category of “other” was eliminated from the analysis due to the lack of cohesiveness of the remaining crime types.

  8. 8.

    We elected to use absolute percent change instead of the change in the proportion of the population due to the number of counties with relatively small Latino populations. For example, if a county’s Latino population grew from 1 to 4%, that would have computed as a 400% increase in the proportion of the population that was Latino even though such negligible growth would not be perceived by the county residents as overly threatening.

  9. 9.

    We considered using race and ethnic specific arrest rates; however, Latino arrest rates are not collected at the state level.

  10. 10.

    Our selection of group mean centering for the level one variables was theoretically driven. In group mean centering, level one effects are centered around the county-specific means and model the likelihood that an offender would receive the habitual offender status relative to other individuals in his county. In Florida, court size and dynamic vary tremendously and an offender being processed in Broward County will have a fundamentally different experience than one processed in Madison County. However, due to the possibility that our selection of group mean centering might have an affect on the results, we conducted a sensitivity analysis and ran the results using grand mean centering. Our results were virtually identical.

  11. 11.

    The county level variables in the analysis are grand mean centered, effectively controlling for both within and between group variations.

  12. 12.

    We examined the possibility of nonlinear effects of both the dynamic and static indicators of racial and ethnic threat on the likelihood that an offender would be Habitualized. Results indicated that the nonlinear measures were not significantly associated with our outcome measure and their inclusion did not alter the results reported here.

  13. 13.

    Due to the large number of second level units (67 Florida counties) and the small number of level 1 cases, we did not conduct a full HGLM analysis.

  14. 14.

    All of the level one variables are also included in this analysis, but results are only shown for the level two variables.

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Correspondence to Cyndy Caravelis.

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Caravelis, C., Chiricos, T. & Bales, W. Static and Dynamic Indicators of Minority Threat in Sentencing Outcomes: A Multi-Level Analysis. J Quant Criminol 27, 405–425 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10940-011-9130-1

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Keywords

  • Dynamic threat
  • Judicial outcomes
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Social contexts
  • Hierarchical modeling