Law enforcement officials from the Reagan and Clinton administrations say flexibility should be restored to the sentencing of federal defendants, but they cautioned Congress against rushing to make changes, the Associated Press reports. At the conservative Heritage Foundation, former Attorney General Edwin Meese and former Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann agreed that current guidelines intended to ensure that sentences do not vary widely from courtroom to courtroom are overly complex and rigid.
The federal sentencing system should treat similar defendants similarly “while retaining the flexibility to account for relevant differences among particular offenses and offenders,” a bipartisan committee co-chaired by Meese and Heymann said. Meese was attorney general under Reagan; Heymann served during the Clinton administration. Federal judges sentence 60,000 defendants a year. The guidelines have been in place since 1987, but the Supreme Court in January said making them mandatory violated a defendant’s constitutional right to a jury trial because they call for judges to make factual decisions that could add to prison time, such as the amount of drugs involved in a crime.