The U.S. Sentencing Commission eased penalties for potentially tens of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders. Now, defense lawyers and prisoner advocates are pushing for similar treatment for a different category of defendants: swindlers, embezzlers, insider traders and other white-collar criminals, the Associated Press reports. The commission, which meets today to vote on priorities for the coming year, has expressed interest in examining punishments for white-collar crime. The Justice Department, though not advocating wholesale changes, has said it welcomes a review.
It’s unclear what action the commission will take, given the public outrage at fraudsters who stole their clients’ life savings and lingering anger over the damage inflicted by the 2008 financial crisis. The discussion about tweaking sentences for economic crimes comes as some judges have chosen to ignore the existing guidelines as too stiff for some cases and as the Justice Department looks for ways to cut costs in an overpopulated federal prison system. Sentencing guidelines are advisory rather than mandatory, but judges still rely heavily on them for consistency’s sake. Advocates arguing that white-collar sentencing guidelines are “mixed up and crazy” could weaken support for keeping them, said Ohio State law Prof. Douglas Berman.