Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on crack cocaine sentences told federal trial judges that they had enormous discretion in sentencing criminal defendants, which will probably accelerate a mild trend toward more lenient sentencing, says the New York Times. If history is any guide, judges will continue to use their sentencing power relatively sparingly. University of Missouri law Prof. Frank Bowman said much depended on the willingness of trial judges to use their new power. “Now that the Supreme Court has said, 'Do more if you want to,' ” he said, “one would certainly expect that that this time the district courts are going to start to be more assertive, if they want to be.”
Putting aside more lenient sentences sought by the government, typically for cooperating witnesses, about 12 percent of sentences are below the range recommended by the guidelines. In 2004, the comparable number was 5.5 percent. Regional variations in sentencing probably will increase. In the federal court in Brooklyn, about 30 percent of lenient sentences not sought by the government are below the guidelines range; the corresponding number in the eastern part of Louisiana is 5 percent. “It's absolutely clear that you are going to see even more regional variation than you see now,” Bowman said.