This paper aims to examine sentencing decisions for drug-trafficking offences in the criminal courts of the city of Recife to address a gap in quantitative research on drug sentencing and incarceration in Brazil.Design/methodology/approachUsing original data obtained from the Court of Justice for Pernambuco, the research used multivariate regression analysis to investigate the effect of case processing, offender, and offence characteristics on sentence length.FindingsA key finding of the research is the influence of two legal factors on sentence length: admitting to a drug-trafficking offence and being categorized as “mitigated trafficking”. Results also indicate that first-time defendants were more likely to be categorized as mitigated trafficking, stressing the importance of criminal history on predicting sentencing outcomes. “Mitigated trafficking” is a distinct category of drug-trafficking created by the Drug Law nº. 11.343 (2006) to protect defendants considered novices in the illicit drug market from receiving longer imprisonment sentences.Practical implicationsThe findings suggest that the policy strategy of having a legal distinction for a specific type of defendant appears to be effective in impacting sentence length for drug-trafficking convictions. Future research could explore how similar strategies could be adopted to influence sentencing for other vulnerable groups. However, focussing on a defendant records or prior convictions as an eligibility criterion could disproportionately impact defendants who are caught in a cycle of re-offending for socio-economic reasons or a need to finance a substance use disorder.Originality/valueThis research address a gap in quantitative sentencing research in Brazil and contributes to the broader literature by presenting results that are aligned with previous studies conducted in North America.
Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice – Emerald Publishing
Published: Nov 17, 2021
Keywords: Crime; Offence; Sentencing; Incarceration; Drug trafficking; Drug offence; Sentencing; Punishment; Criminal history; Criminal record; Brazil; Latin America