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December 11, 2007

Time for a round of applause and some sympathy

As we await further specifics on the US Sentencing Commission's crack retroactivity decision (which I hope will appear on its website soon), I have to applaud the work of both "USSC"s this week: the rulings in Gall and Kimbrough yesterday by the US Supreme Court struck me as very sound, and the decision today by the US Sentencing Commission to give retroactive effect to its new crack guidelines also seems wise from a number of perspectives.  Both institutions merit special praise for achieving near consensus in its decisions: Gall and Kimbrough were the least divided or divisive sentencing rulings from the Supreme Court in nearly a decade, and the Commission managed to engineer a partial crack fix that garnered broad support and (so far) has not prompted any serious political backlash.

Along with applause for these folks inside the Beltway, everyone should now have lots of sympathy for the judges, lawyers, probation officers and others around the nation who will have to deal with the significant practical fall-out from a historic week of federal sentencing.  Implementing on a case-by-case basis the new crack guidelines to previously sentenced defendants will not be easy and will surely generate complicated legal issues.  Similarly, though Gall and Kimbrough help clarify some additional post-Booker realities, they still leave plenty of questions to consider (and reconsider) in lower courts.  In other words, a nice bottle of wine (or maybe a Starbucks gift card) would be a great holiday gift for anyone you know who works in or around the federal criminal justice system.

December 11, 2007 at 04:43 PM | Permalink


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Prof: What about us weary comment makers? Haven't we had a very busy year too what with having to make broadly incorrect (and often incoherent) statements about the shifting sands of the (strangely) snooty world of academic sentencing?

Posted by: dweedle | Dec 11, 2007 5:34:12 PM

Link to the USSC's official press release: http://www.ussc.gov/PRESS/rel121107.htm

Posted by: | Dec 11, 2007 6:19:09 PM

[cross-posted at Volokh] Did anyone else notice the following irony: the Bush Justice Department vociferously opposed crack retroactivity on the grounds that it would result in the release of "dangerous criminals" to the streets. Yet, on the very same day, Bush granted a commutation to a CRACK defendant! (See famm.org for the details).

So, what gives here? If the president (presumably with the advice of the Justice Department) can figure out that this guy deserves a break, without thereby risking public safety, can't a federal district court do the same thing? Is there any good reason to think that there is only a single person in federal prison serving a crack sentence who deserves to get out early?

Posted by: iwonderwhy | Dec 11, 2007 6:25:17 PM

I am just a reader of this blog and I would like to know how this law would affect an inmate who pleaded guilty to a charge and was given ten years. Would this law apply to them also.

Posted by: Frances | Dec 16, 2007 6:27:04 PM

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