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September 11, 2009

"U.S. Sentencing Commission Urged to Give Judges More Flexibility"

The title of this post is the headline of this new article in the Washington Post discussing testimony at this week's US Sentencing Commission's regional hearing in Chicago.  Here is how the article starts:

Advocates for added flexibility in criminal sentencing took their appeal to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which heard testimony here Wednesday and Thursday as part of the agency's first nationwide series of public hearings since federal sentencing guidelines took effect 22 years ago.

Criminal justice reform proponents have long pushed the federal government to back alternatives to incarceration and more flexible sentencing for drug, child pornography and other convictions. While past critics of federal guidelines criticized them for removing judges' discretion, others in law enforcement and advocacy want to use the guidelines to promote alternative sentencing. They said they think the commission is increasingly receptive to that idea.

Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown, who called the commission "the NASA of sentencing stuff," lamented states passing strict laws targeting "the drug du jour" only to end up "with prison systems bursting at the seams with people who aren't the most dangerous to society."

David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, urged the commission to promote new strategies for dealing with gangs, including an approach wherein judges and prosecutors are more lenient if gangs cease their activities, but "bank" charges for later punishment if crime continues. Kennedy sees his invitation to testify as part of a new direction for the commission.  "The Sentencing Commission appears to me to be thinking about its role more broadly and is interested in different points of view," he said.  Kennedy said judges are "enormously influenced" by the guidelines, even though they are not mandates.

September 11, 2009 at 06:55 AM | Permalink


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Judge flexibility is unequal treatment.

These lawyer protected gangs own legitimate businesses. These make campaign contributions to candidates friendly to their interests. These judges will "bank" the sentences so as to not interfere with the criminal activities of their campaign donors.

It seems only the left wing fringe has the ear of this Commission. It is composed only of people whose salary derive from having a high crime rate. This conflict of interest is not disclosed. It has no substantive legitimacy.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 11, 2009 7:03:05 AM

Judge Sutton's comments in that article are disheartening. "Disrespecting the commission"? I'm not saying every one-day sentence is fair, but even Easterbrook as quoted in the AP article recognized that one of the issues for those child porn sentences is that many judges -- thoughtful ones, and for good reason -- simply do not think that the child porn guidelines properly reflect a fair or coherent vision of the penal law. It looks like his mind is stuck in "but...but...the guidelines say it should be otherwise!" mode.

Posted by: Sam | Sep 11, 2009 9:38:23 AM

"Judge flexibility is unequal treatment."

Indeed this is true. But then people are unequal; the crimes they commit are unequal; and the circumstances of their life are unequal. Equality before the law is not only a myth, it's a stupid goal.

Posted by: Daniel | Sep 11, 2009 12:30:48 PM

Assume the judge is of a race and cultural background. Sentences have become subjective. Trick question. The people of the same race and background will benefit or suffer?

The answer is they will suffer. As the judge can do as he pleases, he will sentence defendants of his race and back ground to light sentences. They will return to their neighborhoods, and inflict a lot of damage everywhere they go.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 11, 2009 2:40:37 PM

SC. The law is a human system. It is imperfect. No amount of structure is going to change that. As we are discussing in the other thread, the idea that structure creates more justice is a myth. It may change who the winners and loser are but it doesn't increase the overall amount of fairness or justice in a system.

Posted by: Daniel | Sep 11, 2009 6:50:46 PM

There is a hard outcome measure to validate one side's argument or the others. It is the crime victimization survey. This is an empirical question, and not hopelessly complex.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 12, 2009 11:46:39 AM

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