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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Great Sentencing Debate Continues: to Affirm or Reverse, that is the Question

From National Law Journal: Nationally, circuits have been grappling with how much leeway to give trial judges in fashioning sentences that are either more or less lenient than the traditional guideline range established by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.  The 8th Circuit's decision in U.S. v. McDonald, No. 05-1617 is just one recent example.

The 8th Circuit overturned the 11-year prison term for repeat offender Jeffrey A. McDonald in a methamphetamine case because it was less than half the recommended sentencing guideline range of 22 to 27 years and just one year more than the law's minimum limit. The court ordered resentencing without such an extreme variance. 

Since the Booker decision, which gave judges discretion to shape reasonable sentences, the 8th Circuit has reversed 25 sentences below the guideline range while affirming four, yet affirmed 16 sentences above guideline range while reversing just one. 8th Circuit Judge Kermit Bye pointed this out in his dissent.  "If we fail to implement the promise of Booker and do not relinquish greater discretion to experienced district court judges whose proximity to sentencing renders them eminently more qualified to appreciate the subtleties of each case, we will find ourselves the architects of a new -- and equally unconstitutional -- de facto mandatory sentencing system crafted from the ashes of the last," Bye wrote. More. . . [Michele Berry]

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