Judges Gone Mild?

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Last year, after the Supreme Court's ruling in U.S. v. Booker rendered federal sentencing guidelines advisory rather than mandatory, hard-core drug warriors such as House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) had nightmares of judges gone mild, handing out outrageously lenient sentences left and right. But according to a recent report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (big PDF file), not much has changed as a result of Booker. Although judges are no longer legally bound by the guidelines, for the most part they are acting as if they are:

The majority of federal cases continue to be sentenced in conformance with the sentencing guidelines. National data show that when within-range sentences and government-sponsored, below-range sentences are combined, the rate of sentencing in conformance with the sentencing guidelines is 85.9 percent [compared to 93.7 percent before Booker]. This conformance rate remained stable throughout the year that followed Booker….

The severity of sentences imposed has not changed substantially across time. The average sentence length after Booker has increased [from 57 months to 58 months]….

With respect to within-range sentences, patterns for selecting the point at which to sentence within the range are unchanged after Booker….

The rate of imposition of sentences of imprisonment has not decreased.

While some judges are taking advantage of their new freedom to impose sentences below the guideline range in cases where they think proportionality demands it, they generally seem to be following the same old rules. That is not necessarily good news, of course, but it should take the hot air out of Sensenbrenner's sails as he demands new statutory mandatory minimums to address rampant abuses of judicial discretion that so far have not materialized. As the Drug War Chronicle notes, however, Sensenbrenner claims the Sentencing Commission's report "shows that unrestrained judicial discretion has undermined the very purposes of the Sentencing Reform Act," and he promises that "the Judiciary Committee intends to pursue legislative solutions."

NEXT: "May Cause Gambling"

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  1. Senselessbrenner and the rest of the law-n-order thugs need this issue to rile up the rabbling right to get out the vote.

    Fear. It’s all about fear.

    Fear of drug addicts.

    Fear of gays.

    Fear of foreigners.

    Fear of minorities.

    Fear of Islam.

    Fear of Communism.

    Fear of woman.

    Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear – the life’s blood of the rabbling right.

    JMJ

  2. JMJ:

    Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear – the life’s blood of the rabbling right.

    Don’t forget fear of atheists.

    However, if this poll is representative of America’s attitudes, it stands to reason that there are a fair number of leftists who dislike us too. So much for “tolerance and diversity.”

  3. Akira,

    was that a link?? Cuz it doesn;t seem to work.

  4. Judges Gone Wild?

    When is the wet robe contest?

    Show us your gavels baby!

    I can’t wait for Ruthie-Sandra double!

  5. One peculiarity of human thinking (that works surprisingly well in the general case) that works like this:

    Say there’s a fact F that is either true or false, but you can’t easily verify it.

    If the first time you hear about F is that it’s true, then you’re less likely to believe someone who tells you it’s false, and vice-versa. Even if you have no way of judging which of these people is the most trustworthy.

    Throw in with this that people don’t generally separate “having reason to believe” and “wanting to believe”.

    So you see why Senator Sensenbrenner’s statement works quite well: if the first statement people hear about the report is his, then they will perceive contrary statements as “biased”. In addition, they won’t bother to verify his statement – because they believe they already have reason to believe what he says.

    Lastly, and this is the killer, anyone who tries to show that his statement was false will be seen as attacking the Senator – and therefore to be discounted, because “they’ll say anything.”

    Really quite effective. Oh, and he might really believe that it’s an issue. Not saying he’s lying on purpose – but issuing a contrary statement and then denying a quote in response to reporter questions is an often-used technique.

  6. Jersey, don’t forget the fears of the looney left:

    individual behaviour

    individual free thought

    individual beliefs

    independant black people

    independant brown people

    individual gun ownership

    individual dissent

    individual merit

    individual achievment

    individual rights

    individual responsibility

    noncomformist individuality

  7. I really like the phrase “unrestrained…discretion”.

  8. Won’t take any wind out of the sails Jacob. The y will simply not mention the overall stats, but will find a few individual cases that sound egregious (whether loose retelling is needed to achieve that or not).

    Or they will reframe the stats, e.g. “sentencing abusing the guidelines is up 124%!” (from 100-95.3% of cases to 100-85.9%)

  9. Tom,

    I’m sorry, but I’m not following you here. You say the “looney left” fears “individual behaviour”? What do you mean by that? And what makes you think that left leaning folks fear “free thought” or “beliefs”? And what planet do you live on in which the left fears “independant black (and brown) people”? (Seems to me the Right are the ones locking them all up and discriminating against them. After all, how do you think the GOP came to prominence in the South?) And what makes you think that the left cares about “individual gun ownership”? I don’t care about that. I care about gun manufacturers over-producing with the intent to distribute indirectly to illegal sellers. I care about tracking ownership and the responsibility of owners to be accountable for their illegal sales. And why would you say something as odd as “(the left fearing) individual dissent”? What does that mean? And why would the left fear “merit” or “achievement”, “rights” or responsibility”? It seems to me that the only people calling for responsibility these days are the left! The dumbest thing you said (from the Limbaugh Handbook, I assume) is the notion that the left fears “noncomformist individuality”. No one stands up for the rights of nonconformists more than the left.

    I hate to tell ya’ – but you seem like one heckuva dependent, incurious, non-dissenting, irresponsible, conformist to me.

    JMJ

  10. Jersey McJones,

    You are hilarious.

  11. Akira — Sorry, I’m afraid to click on your link.

    I just don’t trust you. šŸ˜‰

  12. JMJ

    Perhaps I should also have added individual humor!

    I’m sorry, but I’m not following you here. You say the “looney left” fears “individual behaviour”? What do you mean by that?

    Precisely what I said. If I decide to carry a gun in my state, I will be arrested, prosecuted and jailed. If I decide I want to refuse to sell my house to someone whose behaviour or lifestyle I abhor, I can be arrested, prosecuted and jailed.
    If I decide I want to take my kid out of school, I can be arrested, prosecuted and jailed.

    And what makes you think that left leaning folks fear “free thought” or “beliefs”?

    The liberal left are the ones instituting ‘free speech’ zones on college campuses, are they not?
    The left are the ones confiscating and burning issues of college and high school newspapers that carry pro-conservative and pro-libertarian ads and articals, are they not?
    The left run the public schools in this country, yet they are the ones expelling children from schools for wearing T-shirts with NRA on them, are they not?

    And what planet do you live on in which the left fears “independant black (and brown) people”?

    Earth. Remember what they said about Condi Rice and Colin Powell? Something about house ni66ers?

    (Seems to me the Right are the ones locking them all up and discriminating against them. After all, how do you think the GOP came to prominence in the South?)

    You mean like the nearly 100% black and latino populations of the city jails in NYC, LA, St, Louis, Detroit, and otther cities, all run by liberals?

    And what makes you think that the left cares about “individual gun ownership”? I don’t care about that.

    Lautenberg, Corzine, Schumer, Clinton, Kennedy, Pelosi, Boxer, should I go on?

    I care about gun manufacturers over-producing with the intent to distribute indirectly to illegal sellers. I care about tracking ownership and the responsibility of owners to be accountable for their illegal sales.

    Then you DO care about individual gun owner ship, because every you mention requires oppression of individual gun owners, with little or most likely NO effect on crimianl access to guns.

    And why would you say something as odd as “(the left fearing) individual dissent”? What does that mean?

    See above on Free Speech zones at colleges.

    And why would the left fear “merit” or “achievement”, “rights” or responsibility”?

    Social promotion in schools instead of based on accomplisments. Redistribution of wealth, land and other property regardless of whether it was earned or not. Groups rights such as slavery reparations targeted as a blood libel against the current generation as opunishment for what dead people did.

    It seems to me that the only people calling for responsibility these days are the left! The dumbest thing you said (from the Limbaugh Handbook, I assume) is the notion that the left fears “noncomformist individuality”. No one stands up for the rights of nonconformists more than the left.

    Really? Is that why political and social dissent is stifled in colleges and high schools all the time? Is that why kids playing cops and robbers duting free time in school can be suspended and sent for Psychiatric evaluation? Is that why a little boy that kisses a little girl can be charged with sexual assault? Is that why conservatives and pro-gun-rights folks like myself get shunned when we stand up for non-leftist ideals, like having NRA stickers on our bucycles and vehicles? (Yes, THAT one is personal).

    I hate to tell ya’ – but you seem like one heckuva dependent, incurious, non-dissenting, irresponsible, conformist to me.

    You do not know me at all.

    Idiot.

  13. Tom,

    Maybe not everyone fits in at one pole or the other of the political spectrum.

    While you list “individual dissent” as a fear of the left. However, a few months ago, a local VA nurse wrote a letter to a local weekly paper critical of the war in Iraq. Her supervisor at work contacted the FBI, and an FBI agent visited her and announced that she was under investigation for “sedition.” Her computer was confiscated. It’s the leftist ACLU that has taken up her defense.

    The rhetoric of many pundits on the right is completely consistent with the idea that if one does not support the current president or the war, one is unpatriotic, undermining our troops, or even a traitor.

    And it’s hard to believe that it’s conservatives who are the most supportive of “nonconformist individuality,” at least as long as nonconformist might mean that you are gay, smoke pot, want to save the whales and have dreadlocks.

    What this all ultimately comes down to is cultural perception. If you own handguns or want your children to believe in a 10,000 year old earth, then you’re going to percieve your segment of society as being persecuted by liberals. If you happen to be lesbian, then it’s going to be the conservatives who are after you.

  14. What this all ultimately comes down to is cultural perception. If you own handguns or want your children to believe in a 10,000 year old earth, then you’re going to percieve your segment of society as being persecuted by liberals. If you happen to be lesbian, then it’s going to be the conservatives who are after you.

    Like the old song goes:

    Paranoia strikes deep.
    Into your life it will creep.
    Starts when you’re always afraid.
    Step out of line, the man come and take you away.

  15. AML, I never said anything about the right not being fearful of some things. I am an atheist pro-many-liberal-things person, and run into conservative fear all the time.

    Just look at the first page of my blog and you would see that. Heck, just the 6 most recent posts.

    I only pointed out that the left is also fearful, and just as much as the right.

    So far as individual dissent goes, I point again to what is going on in the universites with the supression of free speech, imposition of ‘free speech zones’ and the ‘zero tolerance’ policies in force in the liberal commanded public schools as all the evidence I need of liberal fear of all kinds of individual dissent and individual behavior in general.

    Liberals are all for individualism, so long as it conforms to thier narrow view of what individuals should be permitted to do. Sort of like Henry Fords liberal color policy with the model T. All colors are ok, so long as they are black.

    That does not make any argument against rightwing fears.

  16. Oh, and by the way, I do own handguns, and other types as well, and believe that the earth is billions of years old, that no great sky fairy or any other godling exists, that Darwin was largly right about evolution, and that humans are just another animal on the planet, if more advanced technologiclly than the others.

    So put that in your pipes and smoke it guys, just don’t bogart it.

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