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November 2011

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.

 

Sentencing Commission Asks Congress For New Legislation


Judge Patti Saris (D. Mass.)

Judge Patti Saris (D. Mass.)

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has asked Congress to enact legislation that would enhance the role of the federal sentencing guidelines in response to a 2005 Supreme Court decision that made them advisory, not mandatory.

Judge Patti Saris (D. Mass.), the Commission’s chair, testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security on October 12 about the use of the guidelines in sentencing since the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Booker six years ago.

“While sentencing data and case law demonstrate that the federal sentencing guidelines continue to provide gravitational pull in federal sentencing, the Commission has observed an increase in the numbers of variances from the guidelines,” Saris said.

Saris said the Commission suggested Congress take specific steps, including these:

  • Require that sentencing courts give “substantial weight” to the guidelines at sentencing.
  • Require that judges offer greater justification the greater they vary from a guideline.
  • Enact a more robust appellate review standard that requires appellate courts to apply a presumption of reasonableness to sentences within the properly calculated guidelines range.
  • Create a heightened standard of review for sentences imposed as a result of a “policy disagreement” with the guidelines.
  • Clarify statutory directives to the sentencing courts and Commission that are currently in tension.

In her testimony, Saris said the Commission soon would issue two additional reports, one on sentences in child pornography cases and one on mandatory minimum sentences (now available on the Commission’s website). She noted the long-standing opposition to mandatory sentencing by the Judicial Conference, the federal Judiciary’s policy-making entity.

Saris’s prepared testimony, submitted in 89 written pages, is posted on the Commission’s website, at www.ussc.gov/Testimony/20111012_Saris_Testimony.pdf.

The October 12 testimony before the House subcommittee by three other witnesses is on the House of Representatives website, at http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/hear_10122011.html.