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White collar sentencing guidelines now under intense scrutiny

Written by Moses & Rooth on May 15, 2013

A foundational principle of the American criminal justice system is predictability. Only when both crimes and punishment are clearly outlined and the law is applied similarly in similar situations may citizens make informed decisions about remaining inbounds of the law. When any necessary criminal law is predictable and universally applied, holding individuals accountable for breaking the law becomes less controversial and generally more beneficial for society as a whole.

Unfortunately, mounting evidence suggests that federal sentencing guidelines for white collar crimes do not adhere to this foundational principle of predictability, nor are they often terribly proportionate to certain infractions committed by offenders. As a result, a highly influential judge is insisting that these guidelines be substantially reformed in the name of fairness and consistency.

As they are currently constructed, federal sentencing guidelines for these offenses are set via a mathematical formula. One would imagine an arithmetic formula to be quite predictable. Unfortunately, the system is flawed in practice, producing highly illogical and irrational sentencing mandates. It is not the numbers themselves that are unpredictable but the ultimate sentences that they produce.

For example, one fraudulent offense might be worth two points under the system and a very similar offense is worth four. In this scenario, two like-offenders will face very different sentencing mandates. Thus, the influential New York judge and many other criminal law experts are calling for a complete overhaul of the white collar sentencing guidelines. Because ultimately, only by ensuring predictability in sentencing on a practical level will the system operate justly.White collar sentencing guidelines now under intense scrutiny

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight, “Rakoff says sentencing guidelines should be ‘scrapped’,” Nate Raymond, Mar. 11, 2013

Posted Under: Federal Crimes

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