The Federal Organizational Sentencing Guidelines:
A Case Study of Regulatory Decision Making
Laurel Jeanne Rodriguez
Doctor of Philosophy in Criminology, Law and Society
University of California, Irvine, 2005
Professor Henry Pontell, Chair
The United States Sentencing Commission promulgated federal organizational
sentencing guidelines in 1991. The final product eroded the guidelines’ original severity, as
drafts were rejected over a period of four years. The initial goal of the Commission was to
implement organizational guidelines that were on par with individual-level sanctions in order
to remove any suggestion that powerful corporations receive lesser penalties than individuals
convicted of “street crimes”. This study analyzes the erosion of the Commission’s stated goal
by evaluating the organizational structures, individual and group characteristics, and the
social, political, economic, and historical contexts involved in the evolution of federal
sentencing guidelines for organizations. The research employs case study methodology to
detail the events surrounding the formation of the guidelines within the framework of
regulatory and state theories. Data are drawn from interviews, transcripts of public and
Congressional hearings, Commission documents, and media reports. The study’s goal is the
chronological reconstruction and contextual analysis of the decision making process of the
Commission in its development and publication of the guidelines. Results indicate that, while
structural-level variables played a large part in explaining the development of the guidelines,
a more accurate and complete understanding of this process is possible by including an
analysis of the individual-level characteristics of Commissioners, including their
professional backgrounds, ideological perspectives, styles of leadership, and future goals.
In addressing the issue of public policy formation, this research can inform and
expand knowledge of the complex dynamics of law creation by examining the micro-macro
link incorporated in the decision making process.