Sunday, August 10, 2003

Judge Turk and Judge Jones of the W.D. Va. comment on sentencing restrictions

In this Roanoke Times article, Judge Turk and Judge Jones offer their perspectives on the federal law limiting their discretion in imposing criminal sentences.

Judge Turk noted that he has been reversed four times for downward departures from the federal guidelines. Judge Jones said he would be undeterred by the Justice Department's monitoring in deciding which cases are appropriate for downward departures.

Last week, as reported here, a federal judge in North Carolina "issued an unusual order declaring he would no longer accept plea agreements negotiated by federal prosecutors and defense attorneys in which defendants waived and the government retained rights to appeal the sentence."

Apparently, however, the judges of the W.D. Va. are more restrained than many of their colleagues, if these statistics from the article are correct:

"Federal judges in the Western District departed in only 1.8 percent of the cases in fiscal year 2001, the last year for which figures were available. That figure does not include instances in which judges have sentenced defendants to less time based on recommendations from federal prosecutors, which happened 30.1 percent of the time in fiscal year 2001.

In the 4th Circuit as a whole, federal judges sentenced defendants to less than the guidelines called for in 5.2 percent of the cases during fiscal year 2001, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

By contrast, in the 9th Circuit, which is widely considered the most liberal circuit in the country, federal judges in Arizona departed below the guidelines in more than 62 percent of the cases."

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