Assessing the influence of the Columbine shooting on federal sentencing outcomes

Weston J. Morrow, Samuel G. Vickovic, Lisa M. Dario, Henry Fradella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


School shootings are not a new phenomenon in the United States or internationally. In comparison to other acts of violence experienced by youth, such tragedies are uncommon but garner extensive media attention. The Columbine High School shooting received more attention across a broader range of issues than any other school shooting, with only the Sandy Hook tragedy rivaling it for media attention. In the aftermath of the Columbine shooting, public sentiment regarding violence in schools became a central point of contention that bred fear and panic. Given the embeddedness of judges within the larger community context and the effects of community characteristics on sentencing outcomes, we wondered if the Columbine shooting – via moral panic and community upheaval – might have had an impact on judges imposing criminal sentences. To assess the effect of the Columbine shooting on judicial decision-making outcomes, the current study uses United States Sentencing Commission data from 1998 through 2001. In doing so, it contributes to the extant literature concerning the embeddedness of judges within communities and answers recent call for more research on the temporal context of sentencing disparities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)378-396
Number of pages19
JournalCriminal Justice Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • agenda-setting
  • Columbine School shooting
  • focal concerns
  • judicial decision-making
  • media
  • temporal sentencing disparities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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