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NCJ Number: 140534 Find in a Library
Title: Individualized and Systemic Justice in the Federal Sentencing Process
Journal: American Criminal Law Review  Volume:29  Issue:3  Dated:(Spring 1992)  Pages:889-905
Author(s): B A Meierhoefer
Date Published: 1992
Page Count: 17
Type: Legislation/Policy Analysis
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This note examines two of the competing interests that underlie the goals of the Federal sentencing guidelines, both of which illustrate the tension between systemic needs and consideration of the individual.
Abstract: One of the competing interests is the interplay between the reduction of unwarranted disparity and the provision for "sufficient flexibility." The Sentencing Commission chose to issue detailed guidelines with few within-guidelines sentencing options. Consequently, the guidelines lean heavily toward the reduction of disparity at the expense of sentencing flexibility. Relatively minor changes could be made in the guidelines to give judges more flexibility to tailor sentences to individuals. These include provision for more sentencing options within the guidelines, allowance for the consideration of additional offender factors, and re- examination of the departure standard in accordance with how it has been interpreted. The second of the competing interests that underlie the goals of the sentencing guidelines is that between the procedural and comparative aspects of the concept of fairness. Under current practices, deemed by the Sentencing Commission to be a "modified real offense system," the classification of the seriousness of an offense is based on the count of conviction and related behaviors that meet the commission's "relevant conduct" standard. Courts may take into account criminal conduct in counts that were dismissed as part of a plea bargain and may even use conduct of which a defendant was acquitted at trial. Now, as in the past, disputed sentencing facts are resolved by a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard after review of any evidence deemed "reliable." The question at issue is whether or not two defendants who commit the same crime should receive different sentences because of the uneven exercise of prosecutorial discretion. This particular tension between procedural and comparative justice is inevitable in any sentencing system that constrains judicial discretion but leaves that of prosecutors essentially unfettered. A switch to a conviction offenses system would resolve this dilemma in favor of procedural fairness. It would restrain the prosecutor's ability to enhance the sentence based on conduct that was not part of the offense of conviction. 24 footnotes
Main Term(s): Sentencing disparity; Sentencing guidelines
Index Term(s): Judicial discretion; Sentencing factors
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