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Study shows wide disparity in drug sentencing by federal judges in Dallas-Fort Worth


The following ran in the March 9, 2012, edition of the Dallas Morning News. Retired law professor Fred Moss provided expertise for this story.

March 28, 2012

By Jason Trahan

U.S. District Judge John McBryde in Fort Worth and U.S. District Judge David Godbey in Dallas don’t work that far apart, but the distance between the two in sentencing drug convicts is the widest in the nation, a new study says.

The gap — a difference of 100 months, or over eight years — was calculated in a first-of-its-kind comparison of sentences by individual judges across the country.

But experts disagree on whether it is evidence of injustice or is in line with the nature of the individual cases they handled.

 “This finding raises questions about the extent to which federal sentences are influenced by the particular judge who was assigned to decide it rather than just the specific facts and circumstances of that case,” said Susan Long, a professor and co-director of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

 Over a five-year period, the study found that McBryde, a University of Texas law graduate, handed out a median drug sentence of 160 months. This means that half of his sentences were longer and half were shorter from fiscal years 2007 through 2011.

Godbey, a Harvard graduate, had a median sentence of 60 months for drug cases over that same time period.

The 100-month difference between the two, both of whom are in the Northern District of Texas, was wider than the median drug sentences of any other two judges within the same district compared with the nation’s other 93 federal judicial districts, TRAC says....

“That’s because they don’t know Judge McBryde,” said Fred Moss, professor emeritus at Southern Methodist University law school. “It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that those guys are miles apart.”...