The Determinants of Court-Martial Decisions: An Empirical Investigation into the Air Force's Criminal Court Process
Breen, Patricia D.
Johnson, Brian D
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In spite of many similarities with civilian criminal courts, public debate continues about further "civilianizing" the modern court-martial process to enhance legitimacy and reduce unwarranted disparities. Unfortunately, researchers and policymakers know very little about the determinants of court-martial decisions and the influence of military culture in the process. The current study begins to address this void in the empirical literature and informs contemporary reform discussions with its examination of the legal and extra-legal factors for court-martial decision outcomes at different stages of the process. With an extension of modern courts and sentencing theoretical perspectives, this study utilized multi-level modeling techniques with Air Force court-martial data from 2005-2008 to investigate the effects of individual-level factors as well as inter-court community and inter-judge disparities. The results revealed a number of findings that were contrary to civilian court research and theoretical expectations particularly for military-specific outcomes. Additionally, the analysis detected some evidence of disparities consistent with the influence of traditional military culture for decisions earlier in the court-martial process. The implications for the current public policy debate, courts and sentencing theoretical development, and future research are discussed.