Judicial Accountability and Racial Disparity in Criminal Appeals

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Existing research indicates that retention through election induces larger effects on judicial votes in criminal cases than retention through appointment. Yet such research has addressed neither case selection effects across retention institutions nor heterogeneous treatment effects by defendants’ and judges’ race. Leveraging the unique retention institutions governing New York State’s intermediate appellate judges, we report the first within-justice estimates of the effects of reelection and reappointment incentives on judicial votes in criminal appeals. We find that impending judicial reappointment induces a 49–52 percent within-justice decrease in prodefendant votes in appeals involving Black defendants heard by all-white panels but does not affect votes in other cases. We find no additional effects of impending reelection on appellate justices’ votes in criminal appeals. Our findings suggest the need for greater attention devoted both to potential selection effects and to heterogeneous effects by defendants’ and judges’ race in studies of judicial retention institutions.

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