Crime, time, and punishment: An exploration of selection bias in sentencing research

Marjorie S. Zatz*, John Hagan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


The sentencing decision reflects the culmination of a long series of processing and, thus, selection decisions, with cases leaving the system at each decision point. Accordingly, the substantive implications of bias due to sample selection are of particular concern for sentencing research. In an effort to assess the existence and manifestations of selection bias, the sentencing decision is modeled for three samples, each of which was selected from different stages of the justice process. Event-history data on felony arrests in the State of California over a 3-year period are used, along with a relatively simple analytic technique which reduces such bias. Results indicate that bias is introduced when censored observations are excluded from the analyses. Also, the effects of certain exogenous variables on sentence length differ, depending upon the selection criteria. Of these, the influence of pleading guilty rather than going to trial is especially interesting. Overall, our findings are consistent with the possibility that selectivity bias has concealed effects of sentence bargaining in some earlier studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)103-126
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Quantitative Criminology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 1985


  • censoring
  • event history
  • plea bargaining
  • selection bias
  • sentencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law

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