Gonzales Urges Hill to Set New Sentencing Guidelines

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 22, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Gonzales Urges Hill to Set New Sentencing Guidelines


Byline: Jerry Seper, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Federal judges should be required to adhere to sentencing guidelines that set mandatory minimums for prison sentences, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said yesterday, citing a "a drift toward lesser sentences" since a landmark Supreme Court ruling challenged the guidelines.

Mr. Gonzales, in urging Congress to approve legislation mandating new rules governing federal sentencing, said too many convicted criminals were getting sentences lighter than outlined in the nearly 20-year-old guidelines because of the high-court ruling.

"The guidelines reflected a careful balancing by Congress and the Sentencing Commission between discretion and consistency," Mr. Gonzales said. "But the mandatory guidelines system is no longer in place today, and I believe its loss threatens the progress we have made in ensuring tough and fair sentences for federal offenders."

The Supreme Court voided mandatory guidelines in January, making them voluntary in a ruling that said they violated a defendant's Sixth Amendment rights to a jury trial. The court's ruling affirmed that juries, not judges, must determine any facts used to set the length of prison sentences.

In a complex set of three opinions, the high court criticized the federal guidelines and made them advisory, potentially opening the way for an avalanche of appeals of federal sentences.

Congress in 1984 established the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which issued the guidelines that have bound federal judges since 1987. The guidelines set rules for federal judges in deciding punishment and sought to reduce disparities among sentences for the same crime.

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