The Bush administration, saying federal judges are handing out lighter prison sentences since the Supreme Court gave them more discretion, is backing a a new system of “guideline minimum” sentences, the Los Angeles Times reports. The proposal by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales seeks to give judges flexibility in setting prison terms while requiring them to justify any sentence lighter than the guidelines. He offered few details. The proposal appears to fall short of calls by some members of Congress to mandate minimum sentences for certain crimes.
“More and more frequently, judges are exercising their discretion to impose sentences that depart from the carefully considered ranges developed by the U.S. Sentencing Commission,” Gonzales told the National Center for Victims of Crime. “In the process, we risk losing a sentencing system that requires serious sentences for serious offenders and helps prevent disparate sentences for equally serious crimes.” The Supreme Court in January ruled 17-year-old federal sentencing guidelines advisory. Citing U.S. Sentencing Commission data, Gonzales said the percentage of cases in which judges departed from the guidelines rose to 12.7 since the court’s ruling, compared with 7.5 in fiscal 2003. The resulting sentences created distortions and send the wrong message to criminals and their victims, Gonzales said.