In the first 13 months since federal judges were handed more freedom in sentencing, punishment disparities have developed among courthouses nationwide, says the Des Moines Register. Federal prosecutors and judges in Iowa downplay the newly compiled data, but defense attorneys say the numbers reinforce what they have always believed: Varying judicial temperaments, combined with harsher prosecution in Iowa’s northern half, can create widely different sentences for similar crimes.
The data, from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, say that nationally, judges have been 10 percentage points more likely since the change to deviate from what were mandatory sentencing rules before the Supreme Court struck down mandatory sentencing guidelines in January 2005. Almost always, they deviated with less-harsh sentences. William Mercer, U.S. attorney in Montana, last week urged a congressional subcommittee to write new rules that would create more mandatory minimum sentences. “There has been an undeniable erosion in the rate of compliance with the guidelines and an appreciable and troubling increase in sentencing disparities across the nation,” Mercer said. “In short, both consistency and accountability are eroding.”