On several previous occasions, Brå (the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention) has studied the degree of consistency in the sentences imposed by district courts in criminal cases and found differences between Sweden’s various district courts. On the basis of the principle that equivalent cases shall be assessed in the same way, there is reason to study the consistency of sentencing in criminal cases in more detail. In the present report, Brå continues with the study of the sentencing consistency, but also examines which factors are taken into consideration when sentencing, and how this varies between groups of judges and between groups of courts. This has been achieved by means of an experimental vignette study, in which judges were asked to assess the appropriate sentences for a number of fictitious cases. The study examines the following questions:
- With regard to consistency in sentencing: Are there any differences between different groups of judges or between different courts with regard to: a) which penal value they assess the fictitious cases as having, b) the number of judges who choose imprisonment or alternative sanctions, respectively, or c) the length of the sentence chosen when a prison sanction is chosen?
- With regard to sentences being determined on the basis of relevant considerations: What significance is given to: a) factors that should be of significance, such as the seriousness of the offence and various circumstances associated with the offence, and b) factors that should not be of significance, such as the defendant’s gender, age or native/non-native background, at different stages of the sentencing process?
Brå’s intention is to improve the existing knowledge base regarding factors that may have an impact on equality before the law by contributing to an improved knowledge of both the degree of consistency in judges’ sentencing assessments and the factors that are taken into consideration at different stages of the sentencing process.