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November 12, 2008

Federal sentencing through history: "Theives Treated Tenderly."

An insightful reader sent me this link to a fascinating little New York Times story published in December 1886.  The quote above is the headline from this story published 122 years ago; here is the first sentence and some later snippets from this reporting of 19th-century federal sentencing news that was fit to print:

The unusual leniency with which the case of H. Robertson Jr. was handled by Judge Benedlot in the United States Circuit Court a few days ago has brought to the attention of lawyers and others who have business with the Federal authorities the extremely light sentences imposed upon persons convicted of violating the postal laws....

It will be seen that in no case has the sentence been for a longer term than one year.  In speaking of the tenderness with which Post Office cases were handled, Gen. Foster, the Assistant United States DistrictAttorney, said that he could not consider himself to blame as he had in nearly all the cases secured convictions.  He could not regulate the sentences because that rested entirely with the Judges.

November 12, 2008 at 07:30 AM | Permalink


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what is tenderly?

Posted by: | Jan 10, 2009 8:30:35 PM

Just this weekend I listened to Federal Appeals Judge Rosemary Barkett as she addressed the Criminal Justice Act attorneys in the S/D Florida. I am not an attorney (my husband is) but I was a federal probation officer for 25 years and I was very interested in the judge's remarks regarding the correlation between crimes and the amount of incarceration time, and how there seems to be very little research as to how much time should be given- versus the effect of incarceration time on a person. From my recollection, the federal guidelines were developed in sort of an "averaging effect" or finding out how much time was given in the "heartland cases". After listening to the judge I thought the process was akin to "because that's how we do it", which we all know is not the way to reach the best decisions.
As a high school debate coach, I am now interested in suggesting a national topic about whether the process to set sentences in the U. S. is just. Finally cutting to the chase, is there a definitive work on the history of sentencing in the U. S. that I can read?

Posted by: marci almon | Jun 13, 2009 6:58:56 PM

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