Abstract

We present evidence that Washington State judges respond to political pressure by sentencing serious crimes more severely. Sentences are around 10% longer at the end of a judge's political cycle than at the beginning; judges' discretionary departures above the sentencing guidelines range increase by 50% across the electoral cycle, accounting for much of the greater severity. Robustness specifications, nonlinear models, and falsification exercises allow us to distinguish among explanations for increased sentencing severity at the end of judges' political cycles. Our findings inform debates over judicial elections, and highlight the interaction between judicial discretion and the influence of judicial elections.

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