Short Sentence For Ex-Newark Mayor Seems Likely To Stand


The 27-month prison term former Newark mayor Sharpe James got this week in a fraud case was barely one-tenth what the government wanted, says the Newark Star-Ledger. While U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie vowed to appeal the sentence, the road ahead could be tough for the government. Recent Supreme Court decisions have given judges a new authority in punishing criminals: the right to craft sentences based more on individuals than formulas. “It has become an entirely discretionary system,” said Jim Cohen, a professor at Fordham Law School. “We now have a generation of judges who never really had to grapple with the human reality of the person in front of them. They merely had to look at a chart.”

Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor, said factors such as age and public service — two areas Judge William Martini cited in punishing the 72-year-old James — weren’t typically considered when federal sentencing guidelines were mandatory. Martini didn’t abandon the guidelines; he rejected the way the prosecutors tried to apply them. It’s a common courtroom struggle: prosecutors eager to send a message to would-be criminals versus the judges being asked to send that message. “Among the factors the judge is supposed to think about is general deterrence,” said Steven Feldman, a former federal prosecturo in Manhattan. “So the public perception in a criminal case is hugely important.”


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