Sentencing

Pennsylvania’s Sentencing Guidelines: A Review and History

Pennsylvania's Sentencing Guidelines

“These mandatory minimum sentences are perhaps a good example of the law of unintended consequences . . . “ – U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist The Objective of Mandatory Minimums – A Double-Edged Sword While it is unclear whether former Chief Justice Rehnquist was referring to all mandatory minimum sentences as a policy…

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Proposed Amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines Published

Proposed Amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines

On December 13, 2018, the United States Sentencing Commission published a “reader friendly” version of the proposed amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines. The public comment period for the proposed amendments will run through February 19, 2019. The reply period will officially close on March 15, 2019. The proposed amendments include the following major categories…

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Defendant’s Pre-Trial Cooperation Nets Resentencing

Cooperate with the Government

It stands to reason that if a defendant facing criminal charges cooperates with the government, then the government will recommend a reduced sentence. In the case of United States v. Mathes, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals certainly thought so and ordered that a defendant who exhibited “extraordinary cooperation” in the government’s drug trafficking investigation be…

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Impact of Prior State Drug Convictions on Federal Sentences

Prior State Drug Convictions Image

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently tackled a complicated issue involving the application of New York state drug laws to the federal sentencing guidelines for a defendant convicted of possessing Xanax with the intent to distribute and possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. In United States v. Townsend, the Second Circuit took a critical…

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Should a Conviction Mean That You Can’t Vote?

Sentencing Issue, Voting Rights, Felon Disenfranchisement Image

Voter suppression laws, gerrymandering, and challenges to the Voting Rights Act are all attacks on citizens’ right to vote, and on their vote being counted. Another voter suppression tactic – one that has been around for centuries – is the use of “felony disenfranchisement” laws in the United States, i.e., laws that restrict the right…

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Sentencing Discrimination: The Hidden Role of Implicit Racial Bias

Sentencing Discrimination, Implicit Racial Bias Image

Judges who hand down criminal sentences every day in our federal and state courts engage in sentencing discrimination without even really understanding or being aware of it. How do we know that is true, and what can we do about it? Strangely enough, part of the answer can begin on Broadway. “What do Broadway musicals…

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Plain Error Rule: U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Fifth Circuit

Plain Error Rule, U.S. Supreme Court, Fifth Circuit, Rosales-Mireles v. U.S. Image

Normally, if a trial court made an obvious mistake in calculating a person’s sentence the mistake should be corrected, right?  Well, if the Fifth Circuit had its way, the answer would be “no.” Luckily, the U.S. Supreme Court in a June 2018 decision set the record straight on the proper application of the plain error…

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Sentencing Reform And Corrections Act vs. First Step Act

sentencing reform and corrections act, first step act

The House of Representatives recently passed the so-called “First Step Act,” which is very different from the “Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act” that is still bouncing around the Senate. I discussed in a previous article, the many details of the House’s “First Step Act” (First Step). Let’s take a closer look at the debate. Some…

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U.S. Sentencing Commission’s March 2018 Report: Early Release of Drug Offenders Has No Impact On Recidivism Rates

U.S. Sentencing Commission

In a remarkable new report just released from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, we now have more evidence showing that recidivism rates do not increase for those who receive lighter drug sentences. After decades of an experiment in mass incarceration for drug offenses in the United States, this report provides further support for the notion that…

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Sentencing Guidelines for Drugs: New Bill on Fentanyl, and the Fallacy of the “Tough-On-Crime” Approach

There is a bipartisan effort to get sensible about sentencing guidelines for drugs in Congress. The incredibly punitive mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines for drugs currently in place have led to a major mass incarceration problem. It is a problem that does nothing but cost taxpayers far too much to jail so many citizens, and cost many…

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