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Data focuses upon subjectivity in prison sentencing

Similar crime, similar fact pattern, similar sentence?

Well, maybe … but maybe not.

Subjectivity in criminal sentencing has long been a spotlighted concern of criminal law commentators across the country, including in North Carolina, driven by disparate outcomes that seem to be influenced by factors such as race, gender, ethnicity, employment status and additional determinants.

Understandably, critics find that troubling, as well as being flatly antithetical to bedrock notions of systemic fairness.

As noted in one recent topical focus on the matter, "A number of studies suggest race and gender may play a role."

That likely surprises very few people, especially when race is considered, given considerable empirical evidence that black males as a group suffer adversely disproportionate outcomes at a higher rate than is the case with other demographics. That reality has been expressly acknowledged many times, including by the federal government.

Findings from one newly released research effort (denoted by the publication Journalist's Resource as "an academic study worth reading") focus upon whether education level is also a marked determinant in many sentencing outcomes.

The bottom line from the study: That is likely the case, to a more-than-marginal degree, when a comparison is being made between individuals charged with federal crimes who did not graduate from high school versus those who did.

The conclusion from examination of nearly 116,000 penal records indicates that the former group is about 10% more likely to receive a prison sentence. And where individuals from both groups are incarcerated, members of the non-graduating group receive slightly longer terms of incarceration.

Unquestionably, there will be always be some subjectivity in the system, which a proven defense attorney will duly note, while taking full account of other factors as well that might influence a sentencing decision.

It is the job of proven counsel to fully consider such things in any given case and to craft a legal strategy that unwaveringly seeks to secure an optimal outcome for a client, no matter who that individual is.

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