February 23, 2012
People are talking about what the federal criminal justice system looks like and what it should look like. We know the answer – we need fair and proportionate sentencing laws that allow judicial discretion while maintaining public safety. That means protecting against efforts to pass new mandatory sentencing laws.
On Thursday, February 16, the U.S. Sentencing Commission held a hearing on federal sentencing after Booker – the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made the sentencing guidelines advisory instead of mandatory.
In our current federal sentencing system, a set of guidelines helps judges determine the appropriate sentence for each defendant. Since Booker was decided in 2005, sentencing guidelines that once were mandatory have been advisory. This means that judges must still consult and calculate the guideline range, but also have the discretion to sentence individual defendants below the guideline range if it calls for a sentence that is too long.
FAMM supports the advisory guideline system because it allows judges to sentence defendants individually. No set of guidelines can take into account all of the unique circumstances of a case or an offender, so an advisory system is critical in helping judges to mete out fair, proportionate and individualized sentences. At the same time, while we support the advisory nature of the guidelines, we continue to support improving the sentencing recommendations they make. Many guidelines call for unduly long sentences.
FAMM’s vice president and general counsel, Mary Price, was one of the witnesses at the hearing who told the Commission just that! Mary told the Commission that judges are using their discretion wisely and need to be able to continue to give individualized sentences. She also explained that when judges sentence below the guidelines, the Commission should consider whether such guidelines may need to be adjusted downward. Read her written testimony.
The Commission heard from a total of 22 witnesses representing the U.S. Department of Justice, defense attorneys, judges, advocates, academics and more. None of the witnesses who spoke on behalf of people affected by the criminal justice system – prosecutors or defense attorneys – called on the Commission to make the guidelines system more rigid. Read the written testimony submitted by all 22 witnesses here.
So far there have been no legislative proposals introduced in Congress that would change the advisory nature of the guidelines. The hearing was an opportunity for FAMM and others to explain why the Commission and Congress should continue to improve the advisory system and reject any proposals that would make the system more mandatory.
To read a transcript of the hearing, click here.