Judicial Discretion and Sentencing Behavior: Did the Feeney Amendment Reign in District Judges?
This research studies the impact of changes to judicial discretion on criminal sentencing outcomes. The 2003 Feeney Amendment restricted federal judges' ability to impose sentences outside of the Sentencing Guidelines and required appellate courts to review downward departures. Using data on all federal sentences between 1999 and 2004, we show that the amendment reduced downward departures by 5 percent. Controlling for characteristics of the crime and the offender, we find that the Amendment increased average prison sentences by about two months. There is no evidence that judges adjusted offense levels or criminal history in order to circumvent the Amendment.
Journal of Empirical Legal Studies