Electoral Sentencing Cycles

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We add to our understanding of the optimal method of judicial selection by exploiting an unusual feature in North Carolina: judges rotate location every 6 months. This allows us to identify the existence and source of sentencing variation over the electoral cycle. We show that when elections approach, felony sentences rise. This increase is found exclusively when judges are sentencing in their district of election, and only when elections are contested. When judges hear cases outside their home district, sentences do not significantly vary over the electoral cycle. Our results show that electoral sentencing cycles can be explained by strategic sentencing by judges in an attempt to please voters. The unique setting allows us to reject alternative behavioral or contextual explanations for the rise in sentences as elections approach.


sentencing, North Carolina, judicial system, judicial elections, sentencing variation

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The Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization