Monday, September 4, 2017

Fun with Numbers

The new USSC Federal Sentencing Statistics Sourcebook is out with sentencing stats from 2016. The data wonks in the Kansas FPD are happily playing with the new numbers. Here are some highlights:

  • About 35% of cases nationally were disposed of without a plea agreement (Table 1). In the Tenth Circuit, the number rises to about 67% and falls in the District of Kansas to less than 20% (roughly adjusted for trials). 
  • Racially and ethnically, the number of minority defendants sentenced is still alarmingly disparate, with 20.4% black, 53.3% Hispanic, and 22.3% white (Table 4).  The numbers are even worse in drug cases (Table 34).
  • Trial rates: only 2.7% of cases went to trial nationally; even less in the Circuit at 1.1%. Kansas scored higher with 4.1% (Table10). 
  •  Government sponsored below-range sentences: 28.2% (Table N); non-government sponsored below-range sentences: 20.8% (Table N). So almost half of sentences imposed nationally are below the guideline range, one way or another.  
  •  50%: that’s the median percent decrease from the guideline minimum for 5K1.1 departures. 
  • Meth is still the dominant drug at 33.5%; powder cocaine follows at 19.7%, marijuana at 17.9%, and heroin gaining at 14.3%. Crack cocaine has fallen to 8% (Figure K), but is still punished more harshly than any other drug except meth (Figure J). 
  •  Nationally, the government appealed only 21 sentences. That’s right, 21 (Table 56A).  Nationally. When considered with the appellate waivers ceded by defendants, this means the government has considerable power in shaping sentencing law.
  •  Yet the reversal rate of the Tenth Circuit on sentencing issues is 14.3% (Table 56), compared to 3.9% in 2011. That’s quite a jump.
These statistics are helpful in many ways. Say, for example, you are asking for a BGV variance from 108 months in a firearms case. With USSC data, you can explain that the median sentence for a firearms case nationally is 51 months and the mean is 75 months (Table 13). The numbers are further granulated to specific criminal history categories (Table 14). This may inform the court where your requested sentence falls in relation to sentences imposed by other courts. By comparing the same statistics from other years, you can also track the trend of sentencing for a particular offense (see Figure L).


-- Melody

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