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August 19, 2019

Seeking input and perspectives on "hot topics" in sentencing law, policy and practice

I am very excited that this afternoon I have the honor and privilege to begin teaching a new group of bright Ohio State students my Sentencing Law course.  I have taught this three-credit, upper-level course nearly every other year since I started teaching waaaaay back in 1997.  Since 2003, I have had the added pleasure of teaching from my own co-authored casebook, and this time around I get to use the new streamlined Fourth Edition of Sentencing Law and Policy: Cases, Statutes, and Guidelines.

As regular readers can imagine, because sentencing law has changed a lot over the past 20 years, my course coverage has changed a lot over the years.  Indeed, I always get a kick out of reviewing my teaching notes from the late 1990s which pressed students, inter alia, to consider why the US still allowed the execution of juvenile and intellectually disabled murderers and whether there were any constitutional concerns with federal judicial fact-finding based on a preponderance of evidence to increases guideline sentencing ranges.

Of course, many basic theoretical, policy and practical issues concerning why, who and how we sentence in the United States are enduring.  But each time I teach this course, in addition to reviewing the basics of capital punishment and federal sentencing doctrines, I am eager to include coverage of the most-pressing/most-interesting/most-consequential topics of current doctrinal and policy debate. 

So, as I start the latest (and I hope greatest) version of my Sentencing Law course, I am eager to hear from readers of all stripes (including lawyers and non-lawyers, professors and students) concerning what they might consider important "hot-topic" units in a three-credit, upper-level Sentencing Law course.   Perhaps stated slightly different, I am eager to hear from everyone and anyone concerning what sentencing topics they might assume my students now learn about when they hear they have taken a course on Sentencing Law.  (A similar post from 5.5 years ago generated a couple dozen interesting comments which are still interesting and timely.  But I am eager to see what readers might have to say now.)

August 19, 2019 at 11:38 AM | Permalink


I am a criminal defense attorney in the appellate courts. This may be California-centric, but I am concerned about prisoners left behind by big changes in sentencing and parole practices in California - primarily those convicted of violent offenses (primarily homicide) with Life Without Parole Sentences who, unless they were under 18 years of age at the time of the offense, are still serving what at the present time is the most severe sentence in California (now that the death penalty has been suspended).

Posted by: Chris | Aug 19, 2019 12:44:03 PM

Of course I'm concerned with another category of prisoners left behind. That category is nonviolent marijuana offenders with life sentences in the federal system. These individuals did not receive one day of sentencing relief from the First Step Act. President Obama granted 1,715 commutations but only 11 were for nonviolent marijuana offenders with life sentences.

Posted by: beth | Aug 19, 2019 1:37:51 PM

Whether the so called federal "trial tax" or trial penalty invokes due process considerations.

Posted by: john Webster | Aug 19, 2019 4:43:27 PM

Building on Chris's and beth's comments, I think it would be useful to expose them to the law governing when changes in sentencing doctrine apply retroactively in several different contexts--legislative (e.g., the retroactive consequences of the First Step Act), administrative (e.g., section 3583(c)(2) motions after retroactive Sentencing Guidelines changes), and constitutional (e.g., Teague v. Lane and successive habeas rules in section 2244).

Posted by: Jason Manion | Aug 20, 2019 1:47:07 PM

Oops, section 3582(c)(2).

Posted by: Jason Manion | Aug 20, 2019 1:49:33 PM

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