Running head: GENDER EFFECTS









Gender Effects on Criminal Sentencing
Alison Aitken
Central Michigan University










Abstract
The effects of gender of judges and criminals in a criminal trial were investigated. Thirty-seven subjects, 17 males and 20 females, filled out a questionairre detailing the results of a criminal trial and acted as a judge awarding a sentence, in years. Two different forms of the questionairre were given, varying the gender of the criminal. Significant effects for the gender of the criminal, alpha = .1, were found. This result was congruent with the hypothesis and with previous studies. Possible reasons for this discrepancy include the general opinion that women's motives are different than those of men, which creates less of a threat to the public.














Gender Effects on Criminal Sentencing
It is important for any society to have constant improvements where they are needed, and research is a vital part to finding where the problems are. Criminal sentencing is a large and pivotal part of the American legal system, and, although equality in all aspects of a criminal trial is the central ideal, research shows that the system falls short of this.
Nagel and Weitzman (1972) summarized research by various investigators. When data was compiled on criminal cases, a clear discrimination was found in favor of women. It was found that women were awarded lesser sentences than their male counterparts for the same crimes; these differences were found for both larceny and felony cases. The leniency given to women was found to be similar to that of minors, both male and female. Nagel and Weitzman offer explanations for this discrimination, although no clear explanation has been discovered. They posed that judges assume women to be weaker than men and, thus, the same result, i.e., rehabilitation or detterance, can be achieved through a lesser jail sentence. The authors also propose a solution to this problem of discrimination, saying that by increasing the public's awareness of this issue, a greater equality can be achieved.
In another literature review (Anderson, 1976), two types of chivalrous treatment of women are discussed. Both result in discrimination in the favor of the woman; the notion that women have completely different motives than men, and that women need to be protected from themselves are two reasons that this inequality exists. Anderson proposes that by conducting research investigating the nature of the crimes comitted by women, this concept may be abolished.
Even in crimes normally waranting the death penalty, severe discrimination can be seen. Elizabeth Rappaport (1991) reports that twenty times more male convicts receive the death penalty than female convicts. Rappaport proposes that this may be due to the general view of women being considered less capable than men. When examining the description of the crimes further, however, she claims that the types of murder comitted by the two populations differ, with men comitting more murders that are punishable by death. More evidence needs to be gathered, though, to prove this proposition.
In an experimental study involving a mock jury trial for a rape case (Villemur & Hyde, 1983), the sex of the juror, age of the victim, attractiveness of the victim, and the sex of the defense attorney were examined to discover whether any of these had a significant impact on the outcome of the trial. Results showed that there were significant interactions between the sex of the juror with the age of the victim and the attractiveness of the victim. There was also a significant difference in amount of acquittals of the defendant when the defense attorney was a female. Villemur and Hyde proposed that this may be due to the surprise of the jury about seeing a competent female lawyer.
Another experimental study (Steffensmeier, 1977) was done on the effects of the judge's and defendant's gender on the punishment awareded to the criminal. This was a questionairre study examining the different sentences given to men and women who were found undeniably guilty of a range of misdemeanors and felonies. In both kinds of crimes, women were given more lenient sentences than men. There was no significant difference in the way male and female mock judges sentenced the criminals.
All of these cases point to a problem in the American legal system. Is is worthwhile noting, however, that most of this type of research was completed before