Thursday, February 23, 2017


Despite attempts to overlook bias for the goal of fair sentencing at least one federal judge has confessed to over-sentencing defendants to hundreds of years in prison. Most of the over-sentencing results from federal crimes where minimum mandatory sentences are applicable. Many of those crimes are drug related. The crimes are broken down by substance such as trafficking and conspiracy to traffick in marijuana, heroin, cocaine (powder versus crack) or methamphetamine. 

A new study by the sentencing commission on recidivism rates among federal drug trafficking offenders offers plenty of evidence that the sentences given by judges in these crimes is far too harsh. 

Bayer Bottle of Heroin
Cough Suppressant, 1910
Sentencing commission reviews are useful and important studies to leverage unique sentencing arguments. Here are some important facts found by the sentencing commission that lend support to arguments that the minimum mandatory prison terms set by federal statute for these crimes are far too harsh. These facts may also be used for mitigation arguments at sentencing to secure a below guidelines sentence if the federal guidelines call for a prison term above the minimum mandatory threshold. 

First, the reincarceration rate for federal drug traffickers is only 23.4% while just over half were rearrested for a crime. The most serious crime most likely to be arrested for was only a misdemeanor assault.

Second, those who did commit another crime after being released from federal prison did so at a median time of 25 months from release. This is a good argument for less actual imprisonment but more supervision upon release.

Third, age of the defendant is an important factor in risk of future crime. The older the defendant is at the time of release the less likely it is that he'll be arrested again.

Fourth, other than the age of a defendant the criminal history score is the most likely indicator of recidivism. This makes sense since the prior criminal acts of the defendant would tend to establish greater risk of association with future criminal activity.

The question of recidivism goes directly to a key issue in fair sentencing of whether the defendant has some likely predisposition to commit another crime after conviction and release from prison. The facts found in the new report can be useful in making arguments for reduction of sentences.

No comments: