Spotlight: Graduating senior researches drug convictions


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Bianca Pucci moved to Iowa, and two powdery white substances entered her life.

Cocaine and snow.

The soon-to-be University Iowa graduate from Southern California has fallen in love with Iowa winters, and she just completed her Honors thesis regarding the sentences of convicted traffickers of hard drugs such as cocaine and heroine.

The Honors thesis in sociology focused on the effects of legally relevant variables — such as criminal history or offense level — as well as defendant characteristics, such as ethnicity or sex, on the sentences people receive for a drug manufacturing or trafficking charge.

Pucci spent the last semester analyzing the sentences of convicted drug traffickers across the nation and whether variables that should not be considered when sentencing a defendant were in fact brought into consideration by the judge.

And she found that discrepancies do occur.

"In their time being on the bench, they see all these cases come in, and if it is the same type of offender, they will subconsciously make stereotypes," Pucci said.

The research is related to projects her adviser had been working on.

"It speaks exceedingly well of her to be doing what essentially we have master's and Ph.D. students do," said Celesta Albonetti, a UI professor of sociology who is Pucci's Honors adviser. "For her to be doing this, the fact she would be willing to take on such a task for an Honors thesis, I just think it speaks very highly of her."

Pucci plans to take her experience of gathering and analyzing data and use it in law school.

"I am going to have to go find my resources and just be able to do research and critically put things together," she said. "In law school, I will have to be able to figure out all the evidence and how to make it work."

Now that she's defended her thesis, she's enjoying the snow until her family arrives for graduation.

"We never had snow. Right now, it is about 86 degrees [back home], and my brothers and sisters are freaking out that they are coming here to negative-degree weather," she said. "They are getting prepared."

While her family may be afraid of frostbite, she said, the powdery white is the best part of winter.

"I love it; I was so happy," she said, remembering her first winter as a freshman. "I think it is one of my favorite things is having snow. I honestly think that the Old Capitol area looks so gorgeous after the first snow fall."

Her family has no doubt that whatever Pucci decides to do, she will make it work.

"She is a very determined young lady," said mother Sharon Pucci. "She has a goal and doesn't give up on it."

While Sharon Pucci admitted she was "a little sad" that her daughter did not look back toward the West Coast for law school and has instead been accepted to the DePaul College of Law in Chicago, she said that her daughter's drive will make her succeed wherever she is.

"When she was young, she always said she was going to be the first woman president of the United States," Sharon Pucci said. "I wouldn't be surprised if she still shoots at that in some point of her life."

Bianca Pucci is the third of five December graduates to be featured in Spotlight Iowa City this week. Check back tomorrow to read about a 48-year-old who has defied odds to be able to graduate this Saturday.

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