Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Clearwater Criminal Defense Lawyers would like to believe our sentencing Judges are always fair and impartial. As Americans all of us would hope our Judges stride above the political fray.
Yet a recent study shows that Judges give much tougher sentences for violent crimes with ten percent more jail time when elections for judgeships are close at hand. This holds true even if the Judge himself is not running for re-election. 
Here's an excerpt from the study Crime, Punishment and Politics: An Analysis of Political Cycles in in Criminal Sentencing:

Sentences are around 10% longer at the end of a judge’s political cycle than the beginning; deviations above the sentencing guidelines increase by 50% across the electoral cycle....  
We find that sentence lengths exhibit a break precisely at the end of judges’ political cycles, but not at the end of other officials. We can rule out cyclical patterns in sentencing due to factors other than politics by examining sentencing by retiring judges, who do not face electoral pressure and the sentencing of less serious crimes, about which the public (and potential competitors for a judge’s seat) are less concerned.
Toulouse's Portrait of Van Gogh shows Van Gogh as he's have looked if he were a merciful Criminal Judge even during election cycles giving fair sentences.
Toulouse, Portrait of Van Gogh
Do the Judge's do this purposefully or are they swept into it from political braying? Is it the fear of opposition? The dread of defeat? My hunch is that Judge's correctly calculate that there is closer press scrutiny for any newsworthy information near elections. 
Sentencing is always more than cold cool calculations of scoresheets and guidelines. In my criminal law experience having someone from the press attending my client's sentencing should be calculated as another aggravating factor on Florida Sentencing Scoresheets and Guidelines. The Judge has little incentive to be lenient. The Defendant may do another heinous crime by morning if he sets the man free. And if the Judge is determined to show mercy with no jail despite the victim's tears and fears, he'd better make it clear on the record why as his reasoning is the news.
A Florida Circuit Judge loses nothing by being too stern, but could lose a future election by being too soft or worse find himself the butt of jokes and a laughing stock at his Country Club golf course. After all, only a handful of  Largo Defense Attorneys will understand the Judge was just trying to be fair, but their not members of his club.