Is the Process the Only Punishment? Racial–Ethnic Disparities in Lower-Level Courts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although misdemeanors make up the bulk of criminal cases in the United States, the majority of research on court decision-making examines felony sentencing. In contrast to felony courts, lower-level courts are characterized by higher case volumes and increased reliance on informal sanctions, which may contribute to greater racial–ethnic disparities. To assess this possibility, we examine pretrial detention and case processing outcomes for misdemeanants in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Utilizing temporal (detention time) and monetary (bond amount) measures of pretrial detention, we assess whether and to what extent there are racial–ethnic disparities in formal and informal sanctions facing misdemeanants. Results indicate that black defendants, especially black Latinx defendants, face greater informal sanctions (longer detention and higher bond amounts), are more likely to be convicted, and experience more severe formal sanctions than do white non-Latinx defendants. These findings complicate Feeley's (Feeley's (1979) argument about lower-level cases, revealing that black defendants are punished by both the court process and formal sanctions. In this way, “the process is the punishment” for lower-level white and nonwhite defendants, while the punishment is also the punishment for black defendants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-77
Number of pages22
JournalLaw and Policy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


Dive into the research topics of 'Is the Process the Only Punishment? Racial–Ethnic Disparities in Lower-Level Courts'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this