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May 5, 2009

Chief district judges press AG Holder on various sentencing fronts

The National Law Journal has this interesting new piece headlined "Attorney General Promises Judges a New Day at DOJ."  Here are some of the notable sentencing-related highlights:

In his first confab with the nation's chief federal district judges, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. pledged to raise the bar of professionalism in the U.S. Department of Justice and acknowledged that the current procedure for reviewing complaints against attorneys was too slow and opaque.

Nine chief judges described the April 21 meeting on the condition of anonymity because it was closed to the public.  Holder's words held the promise of reform for the approximately 90 judges who attended the annual meeting at the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building in Washington as discovery abuses and other prosecutorial misconduct, new and old, have come under increased scrutiny in the aftermath of the Ted Stevens case....

Holder also said his department would take steps to eliminate the vast disparities in federal sentencing for possession of crack versus powdered cocaine and expressed his commitment to look into alternative courts to deal with drug-related offenses, the judges said. Last week, Holder's new Criminal Division chief, Lanny Breuer, told a congressional panel that the department would support legislation to put crack and powder cocaine offenses on equal footing.

Several judges advocated for uniformity in sentencing and charging policies. One judge asked whether the Justice Department would, in some cases, continue stacking gun charges, which carry consecutive mandatory minimums sentences that can lead to lengthy sentences.  Holder said he and his staff were reviewing the practice.

Another judge pressed Holder about inconsistencies among the U.S. attorneys offices in crediting defendants who provide substantial assistance to the government.  In some jurisdictions, substantial assistance, such as wearing a wiretap, can earn a defendant a 50 percent sentence reduction, while in others, it might earn them only a 10 percent reduction.

Holder said the these issues were under review.  He has tapped Deputy Attorney General David Ogden to chair a working group to examine federal sentencing and corrections policy and possibly make recommendations to Congress and the president.

I think it is both telling and significant that chief federal district judges care a lot about key sentencing issues impacted greatly by the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.  It is also encouraging that AG Holder indicated that all these important issues are under review.  It would be nice, however, if DOJ would be even more transparent and proactive in advising the federal judicial system and the public about possible timelines for these reviews and potential policy changes.

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May 5, 2009 at 05:45 PM | Permalink

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Comments

As long as we are talking about fairness and consistent, organization-wide policies let's throw in inconsistencies among different districts and/or among different cases in the same district with regard to the "fast-track" plea procedure in immigration cases

Posted by: Anon | May 5, 2009 6:08:12 PM

I hope the FBI took pictures of who went in and out of this conference, and recorded license plate numbers.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 5, 2009 9:24:21 PM

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