Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Baseless Disparities"?

Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, in a recent speech to the American Lawyer/National Law Journal Summit spoke about what he considers disparities in sentencing. He stated:

"One area – though by no means the only one – in which we have seen significant disparities in sentencing in the last several years is financial fraud.    With increasing frequency, federal judges have been sentencing fraud offenders – especially offenders involved in high-loss fraud cases – inconsistently.   For example, a defendant in one district may be sentenced to one or two years in prison for causing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, while a defendant in another district is sentenced to ten or 20 years in prison for causing much smaller losses."

Of course there are differences. Sentences should not be based solely on the crime or amount of loss involved.And yes, there are disaparities - there are disparities in the charging practices of prosecutors.  Lest us forget - we sentence people, not numbers, and people are different.

See also Mike Scarcella, BLT Blog, DOJ's Lanny Breuer Addresses Sentencing Disparities 


Prosecutors, Sentencing | Permalink

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One way to limit disparities in sentences is for the government to seek reasonable sentences after a conviction and not the draconian sentences it often seeks, and judges not infrequently impose, especially after a conviction by trial. How does the government justify those twenty year sentences Mr. Breuer talks about? Should we eliminate disparity by uniformly harsh punishment?

Posted by: Lawrence Goldman | Nov 17, 2011 4:37:15 AM

I don't think we can dismiss sentencing disparity based simply on the differences between individual defendants. And I think there are many people who believe that it is injust for one defendant to be given too lenient a sentence while another is slammed for the same conduct. Unfortunately we have been unable to come up with a system that can compensate for an all to human but hardly humane system.

Posted by: Jon May | Nov 17, 2011 2:20:35 PM

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