Do standards of review matter? The case of federal criminal sentencing

Joshua B. Fischman, Max M. Schanzenbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


We study whether changes to standards of review affect district court sentencing decisions under the U.S. sentencing guidelines. Departures from the guidelines by district judges have at times been reviewed strictly or deferentially. If review standards are constraining, then differences among judges should be larger when review is deferential. We find that Democratic appointees are more lenient than Republican appointees under deferential review, but this difference significantly narrows when review is strict. We conclude that district judges are meaningfully constrained by the prospect of appellate reversal. By contrast, judges appointed before the adoption of the guidelines are more likely to depart and issue shorter sentences, but their decisions are not significantly affected by the standard of review. We suggest that the constraining effect of appellate review varies with a judge's respect for the underlying legal regime.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)405-437
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Legal Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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