Although sentencing guidelines have directed how over one million felons have been punished in Florida since 1983, this study is the first attempt to address the important question of whether there is racial equity in criminal sentencing under sentencing guidelines. There is much more research that will be done to further study the sentencing racial equity issue. Specifically, the following types of analyses will be conducted and reported in the future.
Details on Measurement of Sentencing Factors:
Age at Time of Sentencing: Measured in years. The age of the offender when the offense occurred was also used in the preliminary analyses. The influence of age at sentencing and age at offense produced identical results in the statistical models.
Most Serious Offense ("Primary Offense"): This was measured using the guideline point value associated with the primary offense.
Statutory Felony Class of the Primary Offense: There are five felony class levels defined by Florida law which are sentenced under the guidelines: life, first degree punishable by life, first degree, second degree, and third degree. Capital crimes are not sentenced under the sentencing guidelines and are therefore not considered here. Four separate factors were created for the models indicating whether the primary offense was or was not each of the felony class levels. These variables were included in the model to determine their unique effect on the sentencing decisions. One could create one continuous factor from the felony class level. However, that would assume that the seriousness of the crime increases to the same degree with each increase in the felony class. For example, it would assume that a second degree felony is twice as serious as a third degree felony. There is no basis for making this assumption.
Type of Primary Offense: The specific primary offenses were categorized into nine groups (murder/manslaughter, sexual/lewd assault, robbery, other violent, burglary, property, drugs, weapons/escape, and other). Nine dichotomous variables (no=0, yes=1) were created for each of the offense groups. Eight of these variables were part of the model (for statistical models you exclude one category to form a comparison point). These variables were treated as control variables and are not reported in the in/out prison decision or length of prison decision tables.
Seriousness of Additional Offenses: Measured as the number of guidelines points assessed for all additional crimes for which the offender was sentenced. This was used as an overall seriousness measure. A measure of the number of additional offenses was created, however, the guidelines points were found to have more explanatory power than the number of crimes. These two measures were highly correlated. Only the point total was used in the model.
Types of Additional Offenses: A measure of the nature of additional offenses was created by developing indicators of the number of additional crimes for each of the nine offense groups detailed above. These nine variables were then used in the statistical models.
Seriousness of Prior Offenses: Measured as the number of guidelines points assessed for all prior crime convictions. This was used as an overall seriousness measure of the offender's prior record. A measures of the number of prior felony convictions was created, however, the guidelines points were found to have more explanatory power than the number of crimes. These two measures were highly correlated. Only the point total was used in the model.
Types of Prior Offenses: The same types of measure explained above for additional offenses was developed for prior record crimes.
Prior Florida Prison Sentences: The number of times an offender has been sentenced to Florida's prison system in the past. This variable only includes new sentences to prison and does not include admissions to prison which resulted from a technical violation of supervision. In these latter cases, the offender is returned to prison to complete a prior commitment. This information is not part of the guidelines scoresheet. It was obtained from the Department of Correction's data system.
Victim Injury: This is measured by the total number of victim injury points assessed on the guidelines scoresheet. Several other measures, such as number of victims involved and number of various types of victim injury, were developed. However, the total victim injury points explained more of the sentence decisions and was used in the final models.
Prior Community Supervision Violations: This was measured by the number of release program violation points assessed on the guidelines scoresheet.
Law Enforcement Enhancement Guidelines Points: If the primary offense on the sentencing guidelines scoresheet is a violation of the Law Enforcement Protection Act, the subtotal sentence points are multiplied by either 1.5, 2.0, or 2.5, depending upon which provision of the law was violated. The measure used for this analysis is the number of additional guidelines points assessed if the multiplier was used.
2 Capital felony cases are not sentenced under the sentencing guidelines and are therefore not a part of this study. The 1994 sentencing guidelines took effect for any crimes committed on or after January 1, 1994. Therefore, offenders sentenced between July 1, 1994 and December 31, 1996 who committed crimes prior to January 1, 1994 are not a part of this study. Offenders sentenced between January 1, 1994 and June 30, 1994 under the 1994 sentencing guidelines were excluded from this analysis. The quality of the guidelines data for this time period is questionable. Data quality improvements as a result of additional training, feedback to judicial circuits, and the implementation of data quality auditing procedures resulted in more accurate and complete guidelines scoresheets after the first six months of implementation.
3 "Primary Offense" is the most serious crime for which the offender is sentenced under the sentencing guidelines. The determination of which offense is primary, if multiple offenses are involved, is based on which crime results in the highest number of total sentencing guidelines points. For almost all sentencing scoresheets, the primary offense will be the one which falls in the highest guidelines level.
4 The sentencing guidelines scoresheet allows for the entry of three race categories: white, black, and other. There were 1,889 (0.8%) cases with the "other" race category in the database studied for this report. The relatively low number of cases in "other" and the inability to identify the specific racial group led to the decision not to include these cases in this analysis.
5 The judicial circuit which sentenced the offenders was used as a control variable in models not presented in this report. These models produced virtually identical results to those reported in this report in terms of racial effects and the relative importance of the factors in the models. To examine this issue further, analysis will be conducted in the future within specific judicial circuits to further study the racial disparity issue.
List of Tables and Figures for Part II, Section 2