Study abroad connections develop into research possibility
Richard Hartley will collect and study data from courts in Spain and examine differences in sentencing practices.
By Sherrie Voss Matthews, International Media & Marketing Coordinator
One connection leads to another, sometimes with the most unusual results.
Last year associate professor of criminal justice Richard Hartley toured the Supreme Court in Alicante, Spain, with public policy students, and wondered if it might be interesting to explore prosecutorial and judicial discretion related to charging and sentencing data for narcotics cases, and make comparisons with similar data in the U.S.
Hartley, who studies the decision-making process and the factors that go into prosecutorial and judicial discretion regarding charges and sentencing, met with Spanish Court judge Fernando Mireles Linares and wondered if it might be possible to get access to the data.
That question developed into a research project. Hartley received faculty development leave for the Spring 2013 semester and will travel to Alicante in January to begin collecting data from court records. He will be based out of Universidad Miguel Hernandez in Elche, Spain, and return to UTSA in May.
He plans to examine the most recent court records available from Alicante’s court system to analyze sentence length decisions for narcotics offenders and then do a comparative analysis between Spain’s justice system and the guideline-based sentencing system in the U.S.
“There has not been much research done on prosecutorial and judicial discretion in Europe,” Hartley says.
Hartley completed a similar study using data obtained with South Korean colleagues, which showed that in first-offender cases, gender made a difference in sentences in South Korea.
“I’ve been slowly interested in how these decisions vary across systems and across cultures,” he explains. Hartley will explore what factors go into the decisions of prosecutors when they lay charges, and the decision-making process of justices when determining sentences.
“If you find legally relevant factors have some weight on the decision, then okay, but if extra-legal factors such as gender or race also play a role, then we might question why judges or prosecutors consider these factors,” he explains.
Hartley will also focus on analyses that will examine the differences and similarities in how the U.S. and Spain each handle non-citizens caught trafficking illegal narcotics.
“Although Spain absolutely doesn’t have as much of a narcotics problem as the U.S., they do have some narcotics being trafficked into the country; they, however, haven’t placed as much focus on implementing as severe punishments,” he explains. Hartley would also like to see if that makes a difference in the recidivism rates of narcotics offenders.
Ultimately, looking at sentencing cross-culturally could reveal a more just and perhaps better way of doing things, or it could highlight previously unrealized issues within a country’s justice system.