How do judges' previous professional experiences affect case outcomes? In this short article, we investigate the question by documenting the effect of judges' previous criminal justice experience on sentencing. Leveraging thousands of federal sentences from 2010 to 2019, we find that defendants with charges assigned to a former public defender are, on average, less likely to be incarcerated. In some cases, their sentences are also shorter, which we show is partially attributable to former defenders being less likely to give out extremely long sentences. The findings make two key contributions. First, they contribute to growing evidence of disparities in the criminal legal system, particularly those associated with judge characteristics. Second, the findings showcase the potential impact of judges' previous professional experience (as opposed to demographic characteristics) on decision-making. Both illustrate a new strategy in how political actors can influence policy through judicial selection on the basis of professional experience.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Rangita de Silva de Alwis jointly conducted a study titled, “Redefining Leadership in the Age of Sustainable Development Goals: Accelerating and Scaling Up Delivery." This research was conducted as a joint study with Harvard Law School's Center on the Legal Profession, advised by Professors Iris Bohnet and David Wilkins of Harvard, Professor Deborah Rhode of Stanford University, and Dean Theodore Ruger of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women. She is a Nonresident Senior Fellow of the Center on the Legal Profession, Harvard Law School; Nonresident Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Women and Public Policy Program (2019-2020). She is the former Vice President of South Africa.
Rangita de Silva de Alwis is Associate Dean of International Affairs at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center on the Legal Profession, Harvard Law School and Nonresident Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Women and Public Policy Program (2019-2020).