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Judging in a "Different Voice": Gender and the Sentencing of Violent Offences in Israel

NCJ Number
International Journal of the Sociology of Law Volume: 27 Issue: 1 Dated: March 1999 Pages: 51-78
Bryna Bogoch
Date Published
March 1999
28 pages
This study examines judicial decisions in the criminal courts of Israel in the context of feminist theories about the judicial system and the role of women judges in the criminal process.
The exercise of judicial discretion in Israeli courts is particularly interesting because of the relative success of women in the legal profession compared to other countries, 2nd because there are no juries, thus leaving the decisions of guilt or innocence and sentencing to judges. This study examined all cases that were decided in the district and magistrate's courts in 1988 and 1993 for which the maximum punishment was 5 years or more in three categories of offenses: bodily harm (assault and grievous bodily harm in various degrees), sex offenses, and offenses against life (murder, attempted murder, and manslaughter). The sample consisted of 868 defendants involved in 747 cases. Approximately one-fifth of the cases involved a panel of three judges, and the rest were decided by one judge. There were no trials in which three women judges presided, and women judges participated in less than one-fifth of all the cases. In approximately 9 percent of the cases, women judges were part of a panel, equally divided between those in which two women sat with one man and two men with one woman. In all the trials, there were a total of 20 different female judges and 58 different male judges. The results show that if women have a different voice in judicial decision-making, it is muted in the role of judge. Although the leniency of women judging alone may be explained by a gender-related rehabilitative rather than a punitive approach, it may also derive from her still relatively marginalized position in the profession. The greater harshness of panels that include women may also be related to boundary-heightening behavior by men judges that is common when majority and token members of a profession meet, as well as conformity to the male professional model that becomes more salient for women judges on a panel. 8 tables, 15 notes, and 118 references


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