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September 4, 2007

Lies, damn lies, and federal sentencing statistics

This new article from New York Newsday, entitled "Federal judges becoming more lenient at sentencing," has me thinking about the famous quote about statistics.  Though I do not think the post-Booker world has been marked by considerable leniency, the Newsday article does seem to its statistics right and it does a reasonable job providing some context for the statistics it highlights.  Here are snippets:

Emboldened by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that undercut the mandatory sentencing guidelines, local federal judges are showing more leniency in sentencing than most others around the nation, according to government data....

Following the Supreme Court ruling, federal judges in the metropolitan area, including those assigned to the court in Central Islip, have dropped below the sentencing guidelines 17.9 percent of the time , from Oct. 1, 2006, to March 31, 2007, the first six months of fiscal 2007, compared with 6.9 percent for federal courts nationwide, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. In the Eastern District, which covers Brooklyn, Nassau, Suffolk and Staten Island, judges dropped below the guidelines 13.2 percent of the time. In the Southern District federal court in Manhattan, judges went below the guidelines in 21.2 percent of the cases....

Despite the apparent rise in leniency from the bench, legal observers said the courts haven't gone wild in forgoing incarceration. In fact, other statistics show that the metropolitan area's federal judges dished out prison terms in about 84 percent of convictions in fiscal 2006....

"I would say flexible, not lenient," was how one Brooklyn federal judge described the sentencing trends in New York City.  The judge, who asked to remain anonymous because he prefers to be quoted in court, said he believed he and fellow jurists were in the best position to decide the correct sentence.

September 4, 2007 at 07:21 AM | Permalink


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You say "flexible," I say "disproportionate."

Posted by: dweedle | Sep 4, 2007 1:18:04 PM

What is the frame of reference? I suppose federal offense classes are mostly felonies so a prison sentence is the most likely outcome. The BOP prisoner offense type distribution is approximately 54% drug, 14% weapons, explosives & arson, 11% violent, 10% immigration 8% property and 3% other.
If there was a change in sentencing practice that reduced the number sentenced to prison one would expect that drug offenses are the most likely to have been altered just on the basis of their overwhelming numbers.

Posted by: JSN | Sep 4, 2007 2:12:20 PM

Prison "likelihood" is totally dependant on the particular offense and the offender's criminal history. It seems to me to be impossible to make generalizations. For instance, while the public continues to believe that "white collar" criminals walk free, and while the base offense level for fraud is lower than most GL's, if the offender's criminal history score is through the roof, or he was working for a company that rhymes with "Benron" and had a loss figure of approximately one quadrillion dollars, then he may be looking at as much time as a drug offender. On the other hand it is possible to get probation for a drug offense -- assuming the drug involved doesn't rhyme with "wack".

Posted by: dweedle | Sep 4, 2007 2:57:25 PM

The both of you know you hit the nail with the hammer then. Especially dweedle.

Posted by: jubria | Sep 4, 2007 11:01:11 PM

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Posted by: india | Oct 6, 2008 2:04:37 PM

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