Saturday, April 10, 2010

New Sentencing Resource for Federal Public and Community Defenders

Jennifer Niles Coffin and other members of the Sentencing Resource Counsel's Office have a wonderful new resource, and I vote it - very impressive - to assist with sentencing research. Here is how it was described to me:

"a website devoted to making available a large number of documents and materials from the Commission's public record that are not currently available on the Commission's website (and are otherwise difficult to obtain). These include nearly all public comment (including public comment regarding the initial guideline development process), written hearing testimony from early amendment cycles (and some others), hearing transcripts (before 1997), and various reports (including the mythical 1990 Firearms Working Group Report). The documents themselves are posted just as they appear in the records of the Sentencing Commission, and each document is fully searchable (although the site itself is not). The website address is www.src-project.org.

You can use these documents to figure out whether the provision was developed by the Commission in its characteristic institutional role, as the Sentencing Reform Act envisioned and as the Supreme Court has now re-emphasized. What comments did the Commission receive from stakeholders when it was contemplating the guideline or a subsequent change? What was said at the hearings? What did that staff report say? Because much of the administrative record is not available on the Commission's website (especially for the earlier amendment cycles), the answers to these questions have often remained mysteries.

You should think of this website as a library or repository for primary documents. The documents are arranged by category (public comment, transcripts, testimony, reports), so the website will be most useful when you have already targeted an amendment for an inquiry into its "legislative history" and you know the amendment cycle[s] in which the issue was under consideration. This information can be obtained by looking at the Historical Note in the Manual at the end of the guideline or policy statement at issue, then at the "Reason for Amendment" in Appendix C.

In addition, the Commission publishes every proposed and final action in the Federal Register. To find the administrative record of proposed amendments that were not adopted, or to find out whether the language of a proposed amendment evolved after the public comment period, search the Federal Register database on Westlaw or LEXIS for any notice of proposed amendments to the guideline or policy statement at issue. Then go to www.src-project.org (and the Commission's website, as appropriate) to examine the relevant materials."

(esp) (hat tip Todd Bussert)

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