Paying Money for Freedom: Effects of Monetary Compensation on Sentencing for Criminal Traffic Accident Offenses in China



Objectives: The current study seeks to understand the role that monetary compensation plays on the joint occurrence of imprisonment and probation for criminal traffic accident offenses in China. Drawing from three possible approaches to a lenient sentencing in the Chinese judicial system, we argue that monetary compensation influences sentencing outcomes primarily via probation. Specifically, compensation increases the chances of a defendant being granted probation as opposed to more severe penalties, thus leading to the heaping of sentence lengths to thirty-six months, the maximum length of term eligible for probation. 

Methods: All sentence documents for the first trial between 2014 and 2016 were retrieved. The final dataset contains 108,691 observations. Following a joint model approach with both the sentence length and probation as outcomes, we utilized a Zero-Truncated-Generalized-Inflated-Poisson (ZTGIP) model to address the distributional characteristics of sentence length, e.g., discrete integers, non-zero values, and heaping on certain points. To avoid detecting the effects of little scientific importance due to our large sample size, all results were evaluated using Bootstrapping techniques.

Results: We found that the likelihood of probation increased when monetary compensation was provided, however, the monetary compensation did not make a significant difference on the sentence length for those defendants receiving less than 36 months imprisonment. When heaping was taken into consideration, monetary compensation was only positively associated with the chance of inflation at the value of 36 months, and the probation became not significant in predicting sentence length.

Conclusions: The significant positive relationship between monetary compensation and lenient sentencing outcomes suggests that monetary compensation plays a crucial role in the Chinese judicial process. Our study will not only help researchers to better understand the legal process in China, but it will also benefit the larger community as an example of utilizing new sources of data.

Keywords: monetary compensation, sentencing outcomes, inflation, criminal traffic accident offenses, China