Effects of Judicial Selection on Criminal Sentencing

  • Aleksandar Tomic
  • Jahn K. Hakes


Hardly an election goes by without politicians appealing to voters by saying they are tough on crime. Legislators and government executives most commonly make these claims of intolerance to crime. However, in some states the judges are also chosen by popular elections. In other states, the governor or the state legislature appoints judges. This variation in methods of judicial selection can help reveal whether political pressures lead to systematic differences in incarceration and sentencing choices between elected and appointed judges. Although judges are supposed to be impartial interpreters of the law, as rational agents they are subject to political pressure from either their constituents or the appointing body, be it the governor or the state legislature. If the voters demand a tough stance on crime, then elected judges should pass strict sentences to maintain voter support. Appointed judges are selected for office by elected politicians, and thus are not too far removed from the same pressure to pass harsher sentences. State-level funding of prisons makes state officials accountable for prison overcrowding. Thus, judges appointed by state legislatures and governors will have relatively more incentive to find punishments other than incarceration for minor felons.


Sentence Length High Court Plea Bargain Longe Sentence Public Defender 
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© The Independent Institute 2010

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  • Aleksandar Tomic
  • Jahn K. Hakes

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