Judges up for re-election tend to hammer people harder than they do in non-election years because they don’t want their opponents to label them as soft on crime.
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
We’re not normally in the business of giving this kind of advice, but if you have felonious intent and are thinking of launching a crime spree, don’t do it in a year when judges in your area are up for re-election.
If you do and you’re convicted, chances are you’ll get a stiffer sentence. Judges up for re-election tend to hammer people harder than they do in non-election years, according a study from the Brennan Center for Justice.
That’s because judges don’t want their opponents to label them as soft on crime. The study found that trial judges in Pennsylvania and Washington gave longer sentences to felons the closer they were to re-election. And in capital cases, judges facing retention elections were more likely to affirm death sentences.
In 37 states that heard capital cases over the past 15 years, appointed judges reversed death sentences 26 percent of the time, while judges facing retention elections reversed only 15 percent of the time. And judges who were facing competitive elections reversed a mere 11 percent of the time.
Various studies over the years have shown that “proximity to re-election makes judges more punitive – more likely to impose longer sentences, affirm death sentences, and even override life sentences to impose death,” the Brennan study said.
“Without reform, terms of incarceration and executions will continue to be determined, in part, by the decision-maker’s proximity to re-election.”
Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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