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February 9, 2009

Gearing up for US Sentencing Commission's regional hearing in Atlanta

I am very pleased to see from this new Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, headlined "Hearings to open on sentencing guidelines," that the coming start of the US Sentencing Commission's regional hearings is already getting some press.   Here is how the piece starts:

The U.S. Sentencing Commission meets Tuesday in Atlanta, launching a series of hearings to determine what people think of guidelines that help decide the fate of tens of thousands of convicted felons every year.

The two-day hearings at the Hyatt Regency mark the 25th anniversary of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. Its goal was to eliminate unwarranted sentencing disparities with guidelines that give the same punishment to similar defendants who committed similar crimes.

“This is an opportunity to let us see how the system is working,” said commission chairman Ricardo Hinojosa, a federal judge from McAllen, Texas. “We can hear what people like about the guidelines, what they don’t like about them.”  One good thing about the sentencing guidelines, Hinojosa said, is transparency.

With all due respect to Judge Hinojosa, though the USSC has been somewhat better lately when it comes to transparency, the federal sentencing system still remains very opaque.  For example, does anyone know how many cases involve acquitted-conduct enhancements or how many child-porn downloading defendants have avoided an applicable mandatory minimum sentence through charge bargaining?  Does anyone know even how a researcher could possibly obtain this information? 

The USSC has been pretty good at providing a little more data and openness in recent years, but transparency is still more of a hope than a reality for most of us eager to really understand what happens in the federal criminal justice system.  That all said, these regional hearings should be great, and I hope to have time to blog about them a lot.  Right now, the US Sentencing Commission has this agenda posted on its website, and I am hoping that soon it will also have submitted written testimony from these hearings available on-line.

Some related recent posts:

February 9, 2009 at 06:36 PM | Permalink


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Posted by: Miriam | Feb 26, 2009 7:25:00 AM

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