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Commission seeks bill to cut sentencing variances

In testimony before Congress, the chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would cut down on sentencing disparities and add more teeth to sentencing guidelines adopted by the Commission.

U.S. District Judge Patti Saris of Massachusetts, the Commission’s chair, said that since the 2005 Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v. Booker making federal sentencing guidelines advisory rather than mandatory, there have been “troubling trends in sentencing.”

Those trends, she said, include an increase in sentencing variances from the guidelines.

“There are troubling trends in sentencing, including growing disparities among circuits and districts and demographic disparities which the Commission has been evaluating,” Saris said in testimony to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.

She urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would create a more robust appellate review standard, which would require appellate courts to apply a presumption of reasonableness to sentences within the properly calculated guidelines range, require judges to offer greater justification the more they vary from a guideline and create a heightened standard of review for sentences imposed as a result of a “policy disagreement” with the guidelines.

“The Commission believes that a strong and effective guidelines system is an essential component of the flexible, certain and fair sentencing scheme envisioned by Congress,” Saris said.

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