The need for Constitutionally sanctioned mandatory federal sentencing guidelines

(Note to ALL: While this thread is occasioned by the inordinately light sentence handed to Paul Manafort, it is not ABOUT Paul Manafort. Nor is it about racial disparities, real or perceived, or class disparities, real or perceived. Please leave such comments or discussions in the existing threads.)

Rather, this thread is about the real need for Constitutionally sanctioned MANDATORY federal sentencing guidelines.

Currently, federal sentencing guidelines exist, but under a Supreme Court ruling, they are advisory only. While a federal judge is still required to CONSULT the guidelines during sentencing, they are free to ignore them, and issue sentences that are subject only to the statutory maximums (and minimums if applicable.)

The result is what we have seen and are likely ABOUT to see with Paul Manafort.

One judge that went ridiculously below the guidelines. And in the upcoming sentencing, very likely a judge that will EXCEED the sentencing guidelines and very likely hand Paul Manafort his testicles in the court room. Judge Jackson is known for lowering the boom on defendants and is noted for exceeding the guidelines.

But we should not sanction EITHER of these two situations. The sentence handed down by Elliot was wrong and hopefully will be raised on appeal. Yes, the appeals court can raise a sentence if the sentencing judge went below the guideline range, but don’t always do so. But if Jackson exceeds the sentencing guidelines, that is not anymore a just outcome and should not meet with anybody’s approval.

For justice to be justice, it must be consistent. A defendant should not be in a situation where his sentence depends upon the Judge randomly assigned to his case. If he gets a Judge Elliot or a Judge Jackson, he should be able to expect a consistent and just sentence.

I don’t believe mandatory guidelines are a violation of due process and I think the Supreme Court should reverse itself, at least as far as necessary to permit introduction of a system of mandatory guidelines, which should start with the existing voluntary guidelines. In fact, I think mandatory guidelines ENHANCE due process, by ensuring consistency of outcome.

Once guidelines are in place, departures from the guidelines would require the judge to give a detailed explanation of the reason or reasons for departure from the guidelines and the defendant (or prosecutors if the departure was downwards) would be able to directly appeal such departure to the Court of Appeals and the concurrence of all three panel judges would be required to uphold a departure in either direction.

And again I would ask that people NOT bring up the motivations (real or perceived) behind Judge Elliot’s downward departure from the sentencing guidelines. Please leave those discussions in the other Manafort threads.

This is more a thread for solutions to the sentencing issues.

My gut reaction is that it’ll never happen because the debate would be so overwhelming. Judges like Ellis are an exception. Hopefully, he’ll retire soon. That sentence will be his legacy.

Your point is well taken. Formalizing the reasons behind sentence length, and imposing accountability for deviating from them, will improve transparency where it is badly needed (on both ends of the “fairness” spectrum). That said, I will privately perform a little happy dance should the above scenario occur.

That is an overstatement. While I strongly disapprove of his sentence in this case, ELLIS (which I keep writing as Elliot, probably because of the T.S. initials) :smile: has many thousands of written decisions and has frequently sat with the Fourth Circuit. He is wrong here, but he does have a strong legacy of quality decisions as well.

Anyhow, that is the whole point of making the guidelines mandatory, so that if a judge has a bias (which may not necessarily be race or class based, it may be political, it may simply be personal sympathy, in the end the reason is of no import) that the outcome will still be consistent from judge to judge.

Maybe Jackson’s sentence will counterbalance Ellis’s sentence, so that the combined sentences will be the same as if BOTH judges had stayed in the sentencing guideline range.

guidelines allow for discretion

but if you don’t want discretion, trial by robot works…

I’m sure lots of people would be glad to get out of jury duty

Yes, and that would be both just, and evidence of inherent flaws in the system.

My proposal would allow for discretion. The guidelines provide discretion that may be as much as a decade either way depending on the severity of the crime. In this case, the guidelines were in the range of 19 to 25 years.

I don’t think equal penalty is equivalent to equal justice…

I’m good with that. Admitting the judiciary sucks?

Not a point that I am trying to make.

Rather, the penalty should be commensurate with the totality of the circumstances. If the circumstances are different, the sentencing guidelines should reflect that.


I am admitting that there are deep flaws in federal sentencing.

Ok, why don’t we just let the omnipotent judge do what he thinks is best? :wink::+1: