DOJ Defends “Tough but Fair” Fraud Sentences, Opposes Guideline Changes


The U.S. Justice Department opposes a wholesale revamping of white-collar criminal sentences that defense lawyers and some judges have urged, Reuters reports. Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney in San Francisco, said the department was open to limited changes in white-collar sentencing that could reduce sentences in some fraud cases. The U.S. Sentencing Commission is weighing revisions to advisory sentencing guidelines used by judges for securities, healthcare, mortgage and other fraud offenses.

Defense lawyers, the American Bar Association, and some judges have criticized the guidelines, saying they emphasize financial losses caused by crime over all other factors, sometimes resulting in too-severe sentences. Haag, speaking at a symposium on white-collar sentencing, said the Justice Department believes the current guidelines “result in tough but fair sentences in the vast majority of the cases.” She added that, “despite our questions and concerns, however, we do agree that in some cases, loss may overstate the seriousness of the offense.” A growing number of judges have imposed terms less than urged by the guidelines, which became advisory rather than mandatory under a 2005 a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

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