FAMM Announces Fit the Crime Project: Effort Encourages Reform of Economic Crime Sentencing

Post Date: May 7, 2014

WASHINGTON – In an effort to highlight the need to rebalance criminal sentencing for economic crimes such as fraud, insider trading and other white collar offenses, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) today launched the Fit the Crime Project. This project will raise awareness about the dramatic shortcomings of the current sentencing guidelines for economic crimes that have led to sometimes outrageous and often inconsistent sentences. 

The intent of the existing guidelines is to be a model of objectivity and efficiency. Instead the guidelines rely on a decidedly narrow basis of criteria often decried by prosecutors and defense attorneys and ignored by judges. “These antiquated guidelines dictated by the U.S. Sentencing Commission result in an unbalanced and inherently unfair system that is inconsistent with the principles of justice,” said Julie Stewart, president and founder of FAMM. “Make no mistake, economic crimes require punishment, but we’re not talking about the Bernie Madoff’s of the world. What is needed is a comprehensive approach that encourages judges to consider a broader range of factors in determining sentencing so that the punishment does indeed fit the crime.”

Defense attorneys argue that the guidelines don’t reflect their clients’ culpability, character, or intent, and judges increasingly decline to use them when meting out punishment. There have been cases where the sentences for these economic crimes exceeded the average federal sentences for manslaughter, sexual abuse, armed robbery, and arson. In 2011, the Department of Justice acknowledged the problem with white collar sentencing guidelines, noting that they had “lost the respect of a large number of judges” and needed to be reformed.

“This is a timely and important project that will, hopefully, address issues that continue to show up in economic crimes cases,” said Andrew Wise, a renowned white collar defense attorney and former public defender in Washington, D.C. “The guidelines simply fail to properly factor basic things that responsible judges know lie at the core of fashioning a fair sentence, and any lawyer that has represented individuals in these kinds of cases can share a story of a guidelines calculation totally out-of-whack with common sense. Making the guidelines advisory rather than mandatory was a start, but the guidelines still frame the conversation in many cases, and as long as that holds true, they’d better frame the conversation properly.” 

An American Bar Association task force issued a report last fall proposing a new set of comprehensive guidelines that support giving greater sentencing authority to the judiciary. “We need guidelines that all parties in the criminal justice process see as coherent and reasonable” said FAMM General Counsel Mary Price, who participated on the task force. “As such, the guidelines need to allow for other factors such as amount of real loss, culpability, motive, amount of defendant’s gain, the impact on any victims, sophistication of the crime, extenuating circumstances, role of the defendant and mitigating circumstances.”

The effort to rebalance economic crime sentencing comes on the heels of recent momentum in Congress to reform drug sentencing, and by the Obama administration to pursue clemency requests from thousands of non-violent drug offenders. FAMM’s proposed reforms for the white collar sentencing guidelines are rooted in a desire to restore proportionality to the sentencing process, trim the costs of America’s prison system, preserve public safety, and make rehabilitation and reintegration possible and quick.

Additionally, FAMM’s Fit the Crime project advocates sentencing guidelines that provide for punishment other than prison for first time, non-violent offenders whose crime is not otherwise serious. For these offenders and many others, a federal conviction carries collateral consequences—loss of state-issued licenses, ineligibility to work in various industries, damage to reputation, family and social networks—that serve no public safety purposes and are themselves a form of punishment.

For additional information please visit FAMM’s Fit the Crime page.

Press contact: Mike Riggs at mriggs@famm.org