Most federal judges are imposing prison terms within sentencing guidelines even though the Supreme Court says they are not required to do so, says the U.S. Sentencing Commission, according to the Associated Press. However, a high-ranking Justice Department official offers anecdotal evidence that judges are imposing disparate sentences for similar crimes since last month’s high court ruling–what the 17-year-old guidelines were intended to prevent.
Just 9 percent of the 733 sentences handed down in the three weeks after the Supreme Court decision did not comply with the guidelines, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa of Texas, sentencing commission chairman, told a House Judiciary subcommittee yesterday. At the same hearing, Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray said there is mounting anecdotal evidence of disparate sentences and of the consideration of poverty and other socio-economic factors the guidelines prohibit. He cited a California cocaine smuggling case in which four men received 41-month prison terms, while the guidelines called for sentences of 20 years to 25 years. The judge cited poverty as a basis for the light sentences, Wray said. He said prosecutors will find it harder to get defendants to help make other cases and reach plea agreements now that the guidelines are no longer mandatory.