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September 10, 2009

When and how will DOJ Sentencing and Corrections Working Group report on its conclusions?

As noted in this prior post, the US Sentencing Commission hears a second day of testimony as part of its Chicago regional public hearings, and this official agenda shows that this morning started with testimony from two US Attorneys.  And, at the very start of their submitted written testimony, both US Attorney's referenced the on-going review of sentencing and corrections taking place within DOJ.  Here is a snippet from the outset of the written testimony of US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald:

[W]hile the Commission continues its critical work studying and seeking to improve the sentencing guidelines, the Department of Justice is undertaking its own fairly comprehensive review of federal sentencing policy. (Indeed, I know the Commission has been an invaluable resource for data and analysis to assist the Department’s effort and for that, we are grateful.) As a result of the ongoing DOJ efforts, I will note up front that I am not in a position to suggest particular changes to the federal sentencing guidelines while I am currently participating – with many, many others in the Department of Justice – in the Sentencing and Corrections Working Group studying the matter and preparing a report to the Deputy Attorney General and, through him, the Attorney General.

Based on various comments from various DOJ officials, the Sentencing and Corrections Working Group has been hard at work for many months.  And I had gotten the impression that this Group would be making some sort of public report on its findings and conclusions sometime in early fall.  But these comments from USA Fitzgerald lead me to be concerned (1) that it may be many more months before the Group even finishes it work, and (2) that its findings may not be made public unless and only after the Deputy AG and the AG embrace and endorse the Group's conclusions.

For a variety of reasons, I cannot fault DOJ for playing "close to the vest" during its self-study.  But with nearly 2,000 federal defendants sentenced each and every week, time is always of the essence for the reform of the federal criminal justice system.  And, as evidenced by last week's notable district court decision to postpone a case in light of recent comments from senior Justice Deparment officials (details here), lots of folks are expecting and hoping that the Sentencing and Corrections Working Group will be bringing hope and change to the federal sentencing system ASAP.

September 10, 2009 at 11:27 AM | Permalink

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