The Sentencing of White-Collar Criminals in Federal Courts: A Socio-Legal Exploration of Disparity

This Article addresses that question by examining judicial sentencing philosophy as applied to white-collar criminality and reporting data that illuminate the operation of that philosophy. Part I of the Article argues that the traditional purposes and limits of criminal sentencing may plausibly justify either disparate or comparable sentences in cases of white-collar and common criminality. Part II describes the obstacles to an accurate empirical inquiry into how judges resolve these uncertainties in the theory of punishment. Part III presents a study designed to overcome as many of these obstacles as possible. What is most dramatic is that the resulting data do not appear to support the oft-presumed hypothesis that judges impose lighter sentences on high-status individuals convicted of white-collar crimes than they impose on lower-status individuals convicted of common crimes.4 The data, however, suggest that a significantly increased emphasis on the prosecution of white-collar crimes may encourage sentencing disparities in favor of those convicted as a result. These findings form the Article’s conclusion and a foundation for further research.