States: Federal Sentencing Need Not Be Chaotic


Allowing federal judges leeway in sentencing criminals need not cause chaos, say judges and sentencing experts in states with such systems, the New York Times reports. Richard Kern of the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, whose system resembles the way federal sentences will be handed down, said that judges there follow the advisory guidelines 81 percent of the time. In the District of Columbia, which converted to an advisory system last summer, judges follow the guidelines 87 percent of the time. Under the federal system that was considered mandatory, judges sentenced defendants within the guidelines only about 65 percent of the time.

Federal judges have indicated that the guidelines will retain considerable force. “In all but the most unusual cases,” Paul G. Cassell, a federal judge in Salt Lake City, wrote, “the appropriate sentence will be the guidelines sentence.” William Young, the chief federal district judge in Boston, expects only minor changes in sentencing practices. Some states with advisory guidelines have had less success in persuading judges to apply them. “Since they were voluntary, people didn’t necessarily look at them,” Judge Michael Wolff of the Missouri Supreme Court, the chairman of the Sentencing Advisory Commission.


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