Five years after the Supreme Court held that the federal sentencing guidelines are no longer binding, judges for the most part continue to follow them, though there is an ever-growing divergence, say recent federal sentencing statistics reported by the New Jersey Law Journal. Judges still are struggling to grasp the degree of discretion the high court handed back to them when it held that the guidelines violate the Sixth Amendment right to a jury because they required harsher sentences based on facts found by judges rather than jurors.
Statistics released April 9, show that for the year ending Sept. 30, 2009, 56.8 percent of sentences were inside the guidelines, down from 61.7 for 2006, the first year after the Supreme Court ruling. Though nationally more than half of sentences are within the guidelines, the rate varies widely from district to district — from a low of 27.8 percent in the District of Arizona to a high of 92.3 percent in the District for the Northern Mariana Islands, both part of the 9th Circuit. The second lowest and highest rates of fealty to the guidelines were Vermont’s 30.8 percent and the Southern District of Mississippi’s 80.7 percent.