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June 7, 2005

The Constitution Project releases principles for sentencing reform

After nearly a year of post-Blakely work, The Constitution Project and its Sentencing Initiative's bipartisan, blue-ribbon committee has today, as detailed here, "released a set of guiding principles for reform of criminal sentencing systems in the United States."  The principles, which run a merciful two pages and can be accessed at this link, were unveiled at a press conference hosted by the Heritage Foundation and featuring the committee's co-chairs, former Attorney General Edwin Meese III and former Deputy Attorney General Phillip Heymann.  Notably, the statement of principles also includes a statement of "several serious deficiencies" in "the federal sentencing guidelines as applied prior to United States v. Booker."

A separate brief introduction to the principles, which can be accessed here, provides some background on the Sentencing Initiative and also this teaser of productions still in the works:

The Committee's primary objective was to seek consensus on some of the fundamental elements of a sentencing system that achieves both appropriate punishment and crime control. These "Principles for the Design and Reform of Sentencing Systems" are the first step in the Committee's work.  The Committee plans also to release a background report on these principles, to be followed by specific recommendations for a post-Booker federal sentencing scheme.

The principles all look astute and sound to me, though I would contend that the Sentencing Reform Act that Congress passed in 1984 reflects all these principles.  Indeed, I argued at length in A Common Law for This Age of Federal Sentencing: The Opportunity and Need for Judicial Lawmaking, 11 STANFORD LAW & POLICY REVIEW 93 (1999), that the SRA is an astute and sound piece of legislation, but that federal sentencing went astray because Congress, the US Sentencing Commission and even federal judges did a poor job effectuating the SRA's core principles in their subsequent sentencing work.

In other words, the federal experience over the last two decades shows that the devil is really in the details.  Though a statement of principles, especially from this impressive group, is powerful, I hope that future work from the Sentencing Initiative will provide a lot more specifics and especially address how the modern politics of sentencing (especially in the federal system) can be recast to enhance the chance that this broad principles will be effectuated over time as a sentencing system evolves.

June 7, 2005 at 05:02 PM | Permalink

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