skip navigation


Register for Latest Research

Stay Informed
Register with NCJRS to receive NCJRS's biweekly e-newsletter JUSTINFO and additional periodic emails from NCJRS and the NCJRS federal sponsors that highlight the latest research published or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs.

NCJRS Abstract

The document referenced below is part of the NCJRS Virtual Library collection. To conduct further searches of the collection, visit the Virtual Library. See the Obtain Documents page for direction on how to access resources online, via mail, through interlibrary loans, or in a local library.


NCJ Number: 182003 Find in a Library
Title: Guided to Injustice? The Effect of the Sentencing Guidelines on Indigent Defendants and Public Defense
Journal: American Criminal Law Review  Volume:36  Issue:4  Dated:Fall 1999  Pages:1331-1370
Author(s): Joseph S. Hall
Date Published: 1999
Page Count: 40
Type: Legislation/Policy Analysis
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This article examines how the Federal Sentencing Guidelines have entrenched existing sentencing disparities based on the quality of representation.
Abstract: With the transition to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in 1987, the defense lawyer's role in sentencing fundamentally changed. A defendant's sentence is now determined, in large part, by the prosecutor's decisions and the public defender's adeptness in manipulating the Sentencing Guidelines, compared to the previous system in which the judge was almost solely responsible for the sentence. Constraints on defense resources as well as the prosecutor's zeal in attempting to secure a plea, or a more severe sentence in the absence of a plea, now effectively determine the length of a defendant's sentence. With this change, those represented by public defenders are especially disadvantaged, because the public defender may not have the time, resources, or facility with the Sentencing Guidelines to advocate effectively for a shorter sentence. As the skill required for effective advocacy has increased under the Guidelines, the standard for challenging the effectiveness of counsel has remained the same, and budgets for public defenders have declined. The result is that indigent defendants are even more disadvantaged under a Guidelines regime, and the rational prosecutor will often attempt to exploit this disadvantage to dispose of cases. The concluding sections of this article examine the effects that such inequities can have in generally augmenting violence within the penal system, as well as throughout society, by using a utilitarian perspective of the Guidelines. Some possible solutions to these problems, as well as the practicality of each of these solutions are discussed. 3 figures and 204 footnotes
Main Term(s): Federal courts
Index Term(s): Federal courts; Indigents; Public defenders; Sentencing disparity; Sentencing guidelines; US Sentencing Commission
To cite this abstract, use the following link:

*A link to the full-text document is provided whenever possible. For documents not available online, a link to the publisher's website is provided. Tell us how you use the NCJRS Library and Abstracts Database - send us your feedback.