Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Understanding the US Sentencing Guidelines

While studying "real offense" and "relevant conduct" and how these tangled legal terms have turned into tangled laws, I ran across one of the best papers explaining some the fine points of the US Sentencing Guidelines I've ever read. It was published this month and this year.
It's entitled, Policy, Uniformity, Discretion, and Congress's Sentencing Acid Trip, and written by Mark Osler a professor at Baylor Law. We are sending a few copies out post haste. I'm hoping that many federal prisoners will have the opportunity to study it, then put this important "reform document" in the prison law library. It's an easy read (as legal papers go), about the gruesome federal sentencing laws, and those aren't easy to come by — good papers on the US Sentencing Guidelines, that is. I promise you, -- your imprisoned loved one will thank you profusely for downloading it, printing it, and sending it to them. It's 50 pages.

Tom Murlowski, November's Office Production Manager is printing a few copies that will go out in today's mail. We've some key legal thinkers inside the wall and you might be related to one we don't know. We try to get some of the pertinent information to at least some imprisoned members. We are hoping this blog will assist reaching more imprisoned members, with your help. We'll list only the best of 'reform minded' documents. That said, let your loved ones know, comments on these papers are welcome. Our address is: November Coalition Foundation; 282 West Astor, Colville, WA 99114 and we look forward to comments.

Most authors of law make tinkering suggestions, after big beefs about irrational laws. Not the inestimable Professor Osler who also tells us that things are worse than ever by explaining, "The result, even after Booker, has been the most restrictive sentencing system in the nation—one that imposes more uniformity and restricts judicial discretion more severely than any of the 50 state systems that overlap with federal courts in their common project of regulating crime."

Within this rigid system are fast track programs and substantial assistance departures, I've tried to explain it -- any uniformity is turned on its head, in various forums, and formats, for a long time.

Policy, Uniformity, Discretion, and Congress's Sentencing Acid Trip does the job better than I can do today, and for me, it darn well beats having to read my own awkward explanations when I search for inspiration and more knowledge on the subject!

Law students, constitutional defenders and anyone interested in Sentencing Guidelines, especially with regard to the federal system, will want to study Professor Osler's work, too.

Scrapping the guidelines is one of his suggestions, another is to have Congress return to traditional goals of sentencing and move away from the broad dictates, strange special interests in certain crimes over others, and close the trap doors -- the ability for Congress and the Commission to respond inappropriately to unscientific and biased pressures.

Osler asks, "Do we want an irrational and pointless construct at the center of our sentencing structure, even if it is not strictly mandatory?"

Then answers, as would I, "I would hope not."

Lastly, Osler proposes Congress could start over again with fewer goals, fewer advisory guidelines -- from scratch. A"massive effort," but "worthwhile," one he suggests.

Osler believes that such a process, though "massive" would allow thorough "rethinking of charge v. real offense conduct as the basis for sentencing," and host of other issues that November Coalition has long brought to public attention, including the absence of rehabilitation in the federal system, even though it's supposed to be a goal of US sentencing.

Osler's hope will only have hope if the enforcers don't outnumber other citizens, the stakeholders who should serve on the US Sentencing Commission and have been excluded thus far. If Professor Osler was at the head of the table, along with a few former prisoners, social workers that serve people released from prison, social scientists, not just their data, I'd think that effort would bring us measures of justice.

The cost of our 30 year experiment can't be borne, so a 'massive effort' now could prove to be the massive solution to our massive imprisonment problem, so we shouldn't be afraid of big jobs of solid reform. We really don't have a choice -- our country doesn't have disposable income anymore.

Last, but best is Mark Osler's explanation that parole and good time provisions were instruments that Congress and Sentencing Commission had to further their goals of justice -- by abolishing parole, and reducing good time to a pittance -- all they have is sentencing. Really, no one wants to miss reading this important document.

People in federal prison should study this, anyone interested in federal law -- so if you are a loved one of a prisoner -- please download, print it out -- study it with loved ones, friends, and join a public discussion about what should replace 'the mess' -- we find ourselves in.

In Struggle,

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