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October 29, 2010

Will white-collar offenders get special sentencing help from new guidelines on age?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this Bloomberg story, which is headlined "White-Collar Criminals in US May Invoke Age to Seek Lighter Sentence." Here are excerpts:

Elderly people convicted of financial fraud and other federal crimes will be more likely to invoke their age in seeking lower prison terms due to a change in U.S. sentencing guidelines set to go into effect Nov. 1, a white-collar crime expert said.

The amendment states that age may be relevant in calculating sentencing ranges. The current language says age is “not ordinarily relevant.” Some high-profile defendants such as Adelphia Communications Corp.’s John Rigas and former Illinois Governor George Ryan were in their 70s and 80s when sentenced.

“These sentences can turn into death sentences for individuals who are older,” Jeff Ifrah, co-author of “Federal Sentencing for Business Crimes,” said in a phone interview. “You’ll start seeing defendants” ask for lower departures from the normal guideline “based on age in the appropriate circumstances.”

White-collar defendants tend to be older than those convicted of other federal crimes. Almost half of all defendants sentenced last year for tax offenses and 28.3 percent for money laundering were older than 50, the most of any age category in statistics compiled by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Defendants in 22 percent of larceny cases and 19.8 percent of fraud cases were older than 50, according to the commission, a Washington-based agency that advises the president and Congress on crime policy.

Last year, only 2.6 percent of defendants got a downward departure from the guideline range due to age, according to the commission....

“We were supportive of this particular amendment,” Mark P. Rankin, co-chairman of the sentencing committee at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said in a phone interview. “Anything that broadens the scope of the district judge’s discretion is good for the sentencing process.” Rankin is a partner at Shutts & Bowen LLP in Tampa, Florida....

While the federal sentencing guidelines, in effect since 1987, have been advisory rather than mandatory since a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, statistics show that courts continue to adhere to them. Last year, 56.8 percent of defendants were sentenced within the guideline range and another 25.3 percent were sentenced below it at the government’s request, according to the sentencing commission.

October 29, 2010 at 08:55 AM | Permalink

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