“The picture is not pretty” on criminal sentences in federal courts, says House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wi.) of a new report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. A study of sentencing practices in the year since the U.S. Supreme Court made federal sentencing guidelines optional “shows that unrestrained judicial discretion has undermined the very purposes of the Sentencing Reform Act,” Sensenbrenner asserts. He is holding a hearing tomorrow on the issue.
Sensenbrenner concedes that the report shows that the average sentence length increased after the high court ruled in the case known as Booker; the chairman attributes the change to congressional actions. Sensenbrenner was disturbed that the commission found a six-fold increase in below guideline range sentences for defendants convicted of sexual abuse of a minor. He also said that the number of below-guideline sentences have increased for drug traffickers and for career offenders. Ohio State University law Prof. Douglas Berman, in his blog http://sentencing.typepad.com, contends that Congress need not amend federal sentencing law but rather “could simply express its intent for the guidelines to be mandatory even though aggravating facts triggering longer sentences would have to be proven to a jury or admitted by the defendant.”