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September 13, 2006

China does guidelines one better

Thanks to this post by Orin at VC, I see that the Chinese have come up with something even more efficient and effective than the federal sentencing guidelines and the presumption of reasonableness for imposing sentences.  This fascinating Reuters article provides these details:

A court in China has used a software program to help decide prison sentences in more than 1,500 criminal cases, a Hong Kong newspaper said on Wednesday.

The software, tested for two years in a court in Zibo, a city in the eastern coastal province of Shandong, covered about 100 different crimes, including robbery, rape, murder and state security offenses, the South China Morning Post said, citing the software's developer, Qin Ye. "The software is aimed at ensuring standardized decisions on prison terms. Our programs set standard terms for any subtle distinctions in different cases of the same crime," Qin was quoted as saying....

Judges enter details of a case and the system produces a sentence, the paper said. "The software can avoid abuse of discretionary power of judges as a result of corruption or insufficient training," the paper quoted Zichuan District Court chief judge, Wang Hongmei, as saying.

As my comment above is designed to spotlight, anyone concerned about the use of a computer for sentencing needs to consider why China should not be lauded for the perfecting, rather than bastardizing, the concept of guideline sentencing.  Fanatics of sentencing reform (like me) should recall that Judge Marvin Frankel, in his landmark call for sentencing reform in Criminal Sentences: Law Without Order, raised the possibility of computerized sentencing:

It is not necessary, or desirable, to imagine that sentencing can be completely computerized.  At the same time, the possibility of using computers as an aid toward orderly thought in sentencing need not be discounted in advance.  James V. Bennett, for years the able Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, noted the possibility some time ago.

Marvin Frankel, Criminal Sentences: Law Without Order 114-15 (1972).

September 13, 2006 at 05:40 PM | Permalink


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Actually, one or more companies have developed software that purports to make USSG calculations. I remember getting calls from a company peddling such a product when I was clerking a number of years ago, and a quick Google search reveals, for example, http://www.sentencemaster.com/.

Bill Fick
(Assistant Federal Defender, Boston)

Posted by: Bill Fick | Sep 13, 2006 10:21:19 PM

What about the individuality of the convicted?

Posted by: | Sep 20, 2006 3:00:11 PM

If you want your child to be read to, choosing someone with a language barrier may leave you feeling frustrated with your child’s development.

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