Federal Sentences Depend More on Judicial Assignments

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In most of 30 cities studied, the length of a federal defendant’s sentence increasingly depends on which judge is assigned to decide the case, says a new report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Increasing differences in sentencing first reported in 2012 “generally persist to this day, even within the same courthouse,” the commission said.

The commission looked at sentences over a 13-year period, from 2005 to 2017. The commission, which was established as a result of the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act, noted that the law “was the result of a widespread bipartisan concern that unwarranted sentencing disparities existed in the federal judicial system.” The commission issued guidelines to judges on the appropriate ranges of sentences for various crimes, but the Supreme Court made those guidelines advisory.

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