Friday, November 6, 2009
Amir Efrati, WSJ, Looser Rules on Sentencing Stir Concerns About Equity - speaks about recent sentencing of white collar offenders. My response -
Supreme Court decisions clearly allow for more judicial discretion in white collar sentencing - but is this a negative? Hardly not. It provides judges with the opportunity to examine the defendant on an individual basis as opposed to being strictly focused on a mathematical computation of loss. In some cases the sentence may be higher than the guidelines, and in other cases it may be lower. It is easy to say that this creates disparity - but the real question is whether the disparity was there and this now corrects that disparity.
It is important to recognize that some of these white collar sentences are above the guidelines. Further many double-digit white collar sentences are now being handed down (see, e,g, here, here and what about Ebbers, Skilling, MacFarland, and others), and there are even triple digits now seen on occasion. One would be hard-pressed to find the number of double-digit sentences we are presently seeing in white collar cases, in the pre-guideline years. Further, it is clear that the "culture" of the guidelines is respected by most judges and that the government has an appellate process when they believe that the sentence is unreasonable.
But what is also clear is that the guidelines are not the end of the sentencing process. Supreme Court decisions now allow neutral judges necessary discretion to sentence the specific individual before her or him. One important improvement coming from these Supreme Court decisions is that it levels the playing field between the prosecution and defense. The prosecution has had the sole ability to reduce a sentence by filing a 5K1.1 motion - a disparity that often went unnoticed. The new Supreme Court decisions allow the defense to also now be heard.
So what's my opinion? Looser rules should not be "stir[ring] concerns about equity." Rather, looser rules are now allowing us to achieve greater equity by giving judges the ability to account for circumstances that are beyond an efficiency based arithmetic exercise.
(esp)(blogging from Portland, Oregon)