Do Judges Begin to "Feel Their Oats?" Assessing the Impact of Judge Tenure on Punitiveness and Sentencing Guidelines Compliance


Schyler Ochsner
Clare Strange
Joshua Cochran


By Schyler Ochsner, Philosophy: Cognitive Studies; Clare Strange, University of Cincinnati

Advisor: Joshua Cochran

Abstract: Judicial tenure effects remain an underexplored theoretical focus in the criminal sentencing context. Scholars know little about how judges' sentencing motivations and practices shift over time through their acclimation to the role of "judge." The goal of this study is to advance knowledge about tenure effects by answering questions regarding the influence of judge tenure on broad sentencing trends. Specifically, I use data from a Florida Sentencing Guidelines Database (which includes all felony sentencing events processed between 1994 and 2011) to assess whether tenure impacts sentencing in line with one of the following theoretical arguments: On one hand, there is an autonomy argument-early career judges might be less apt to express autonomy as they are newly arrived in their role as "judge." As a result, they may be less punitive and more guidelines compliant in their sentencing practices than more tenured judges. As early career judges' tenure then increases, so does their sense of autonomy, and they may become more punitive and less guidelines compliant (i.e., sentence more independently). On the other hand, there is a "desensitization" argument-judges may begin their tenure with a higher degree of sensitivity to crime, thus sentencing with reactionary punitiveness. Over time, judges may become desensitized and therefore sentence less punitively and with more compliance. For the autonomy argument, we would expect the use of prison sanctions and upward sentencing departures to increase over a judge's tenure. In the desensitization argument, we would expect the opposite-use of prison sanctions and departures should decrease.


Classic Poster (9:45-11:45 AM)