Status Characteristics and Judicial Discretion




Lynton, Eddy

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Texas Woman s University


This research examines the idea that status characteristics influence criminal justice decision making and case processing. This study is rooted in the status-characteristics/expectation states tradition in sociological social psychology. While quantitative studies at the macro level consistently suggest that status characteristics such as race and gender have an impact on criminal justice decision making, what is lacking is an understanding of how these factors operate at the micro level of the individual case. A promising alternative for understanding the impact of individual characteristics at the micro level is the status-characteristics/expectation states tradition in sociological social psychology. Twelve Felony district court judges from the State of Texas were interviewed and asked to provide perspective, sentencing, and observations for three felony cases. The findings indicate that specific and diffuse characteristics do influence performance expectations and thereby case processing. The results show that specific structural characteristics such as financial and familial support as well as diffuse characteristics, chiefly age and education stimulate performance expectations among criminal justice decision makers. The likelihood of offender rehabilitation and the safety of the community factor heavily in performance expectations associated with status characteristics. Significant findings in the study include process level thinking on the part of judges, and the influence of judges` personal experience with victimization on sentencing decisions. Furthermore, the research suggests that judges appear to have treated legal variables in a manner similar to status characteristics. Findings point to the need for continued qualitative research on criminal justice decision making and the influence of status characteristics on case processing.



Sociology, Criminology, Social psychology