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November 14, 2006

More speculations about Congress and sentencing

Marcia Coyle at the National Law Journal has this intriguing piece discussing how the new House and Senate Judiciary Committees might set their agenda and priorities.  Marcia was kind enough to use in the piece some of my musings on sentencing issues.  Here's a snippet:

Sentencing scholar Douglas Berman of Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law said he is hopeful that with Conyers as committee chairman and Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va., as chairman of the subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security, there will be less emphasis on statutory mandatory minimums in sentencing legislation and more interest in addressing the 100-to-1 crack to powder cocaine disparity in sentencing.  "There's no doubt the African-American community in general and the Black Caucus in particular are more concerned about this harshness in sentencing," said Berman, noting that the U.S. Sentencing Commission has planned hearings on the crack/powder cocaine issue.

"Even before the transition in power, this seemed like a very interesting and dynamic time for criminal justice policy in general and sentencing policy in particular," he added. "The crack debate will indicate the extent to which we could possibly forge a new politics of crime or if it will be too enticing to go back to the old way, the 'tough on crime' strategy."

Berman said he also will be watching the Justice Department now to see if it "changes its tune" in seeking a "topless" guidelines system, its reaction to the Supreme Court decision making the Federal Sentencing Guidelines discretionary.  And, he wonders if the change in Congress will embolden the U.S. Sentencing Commission to act on the crack/powder issue, and will encourage federal judges to be less fearful of a congressional response if they depart more from the guidelines.  "Let's just say I have hope for data-driven, evidence-based policymaking," added Berman.

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