“Judging by the Cover: On the Relationship Between Media Coverage on Crime and Harshness in Sentencing”

Does media coverage of crime lead to harsher sentences? One would like to think that judges are not influenced by media coverage but ruling it totally out is perhaps a bit naive. There is an interesting  paper  exploring this issue posted on SSRN authored by Itay Ravid. Here is its abstract:

Does the mass media affect judicial decisionmaking?  This first of its kind empirical study delves into this long-lasting question, and investigates the relationship between media coverage of crime and criminal sentencing.  To do so, I construct a novel data set of media reports on crime, which I link to administrative state court sentencing records. The data span five years and more than forty-three thousand sentencing decisions across three jurisdictions that differ in their judicial selection models: Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. 

I find that crime coverage increases sentencing harshness. I also find evidence to suggest that this effect is mitigated through a state’s method of judicial selection.  The findings go beyond traditional, case-study scholarship on the nexus between the media and the judiciary, offering evidence that the media can affect judicial decisionmaking in broader contexts.  These findings hold significant implications for policy and judicial politics and raise questions at the core of the criminal justice system.  Particularly, they call for renewed attention to the media as an important factor in the criminal process and a potential obstacle towards achieving the constitutional ideal of fair trials.  The Article concludes by suggesting methods for countering such media effects.

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