Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"TRAC" Analysis of Variations in Sentencing Significantly Flawed

A recent post brought your attention to a newly released study from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse of Syracuse University ("TRAC Study") which has garnered much attention in its efforts to compare sentencing disparities between Federal District Courts and Judges.

A review of the TRAC study, however, raises serious questions about its validity. A fact sheet (available here on Berman's Blog) prepared by Michael Nachmanoff of the Eastern District of Virginia, identifies some very substantial problems with TRAC's methodology. Here is one: "The only similarity among the cases sentenced in each district is that prosecutors categorized them as 'drug,' 'white collar,' etc. All other case differences are ignored. Heroin or marijuana cases, involving 1 gram or 1 ton, are all called 'similar' drug cases. First-time offenders are lumped with lifetime criminals. Academic researchers studying disparity use data from the U. S. Sentencing Commission to categorize cases along dozens of different variables, but this data was not used in TRAC’s analysis."

Given these issues, counsel will want to be alert and wary of any efforts to use or take consideration of the TRAC study at sentencings.


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