Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory federal sentencing guidelines five years ago, the difference in the average sentences of the most lenient and most severe federal judges in Boston has widened, according to a new study reported by the Boston Globe that says the trend threatens to undermine fairness. Now that the guidelines are only advisory, the three most lenient jurists impose average prison sentences of slightly more than two years for all crimes, said the study in the Stanford Law Review. The two toughest impose average sentences double that.
The findings are troubling, said study author Ryan Scott of Indiana University’s law school, because they raise the specter of defendants getting markedly different punishments depending on the politics and biases of the judges before whom they appear. “It offends our notions of equality and consistency and the rule of law that an offender's sentence should depend on which judge happens to be assigned to the case,'' said Scott, who analyzed 2,262 sentences imposed by 10 judges in Boston.