Running around New York. (futurebird) wrote in talk_politics,
Running around New York.

Disparities in sentences.

In 2005 the Supreme Court case United States v. Booker struck down the provision of the sentencing statute that required judges to impose a sentence within the Federal Guidelines range. So, what impact has the removal of mandatory guidelines had on sentencing?

For years, legal experts have argued over the disparity in sentencing between black and white men. The commission found that the difference peaked in 1999 with blacks receiving 14 percent longer sentences. By 2002, however, the commission found no statistical difference.

Many suspected this improvement was due to the mandatory sentencing guidelines. But, whatever the cause, it was excellent news for federal courts. Since 2005, however, after the Booker decision, “those differences appear to have been increasing steadily,'' with black men receiving sentences that were up to 10 percent longer than those imposed on whites, the commission said.
`People who commit similar crimes should receive similar sentences,'' said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee "Unfortunately, without sentencing guidelines for courts to follow, some individuals have received harsher penalties than others despite committing similar crimes."
Disparities in sentences found

In separate, but related, news House Judiciary Committee is finally going to do something about the sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine. The have said that the notorious 100-1 ratio has no basis in science and it hits poor people and minorities especially hard. It is one of the mandatory drug sentencing policies enacted in the mid-1980s, that helped triple the nation's prison population. The new policy still gives harsher sentences for crack (more like 20-1, rather than 100-1)

Reforming the prison system will not be swift or simple. In these two stories we see how sentencing guidelines, for example, can work as a double edged sword. Guidelines may protect minorities from discrimination when comparing people of different races who committed the same crime. But, when very similar crimes (possession of crack vs. possession of cocaine) are aligned along racial and income lines of preference, rigid guidelines can become discriminatory. Judges, are for the most, part happier with fewer guidelines, they feel that they are able to be more fair, giving each case individual consideration. Yet, even among judges, there are some doubts about not having mandatory guidelines. The next article is not about racial discrimination, but it gives a sense of the complexities and pitfalls of sentencing.

Filip questioned whether the return of discretionary sentencing is such a good thing. While excellent legal judgment may be a prerequisite to becoming a federal judge, Filip argued that legal judgment does little to qualify a judge to make the moral judgments that sentencing requires.

Accordingly, judges should take a modest view of their own moral judgment before departing from the norms, Filip maintained.

He noted that information available at sentencing is often slanted, and is a poor guide as to whether a defendant will reoffend. While a defendant might present three letters attesting to his good moral character, the judge has no way of knowing whether dozens of other persons were asked, but refused, to write such letters.
Former judge defends sentencing guidelines

What do you think about sentencing guidelines? To they tend to put people in prison for too long-- or can they make the system more fair?

Mandatory minimum sentences for first time drug offenders:
Type of drug Five Year Sentence Without Parole Ten Year Sentence Without Parole
LSD 1 gram 10 grams
Marijuana 100 plants/100 kilos 1000 plants/1000 kilos
Crack cocaine 5 grams 50 grams
Powder cocaine 500 grams 5 kilos
Heroin 100 grams 1 kilo
Methamphetamine 10 grams 100 grams
PCP 10 grams 100 grams

5 grams of crack is about 25 "hits" or a 8-day supply for an addict.
500 grams of coke is 3,000 "lines" or, if we say someone is using 35 lines a day (this would kill many people) this is a 86 day supply.

The purpose of the sentences is to put people in jail who have an intent to sell.
Tags: court, justice
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