Latest Drug War News

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give!

Shop online at and a percentage of each purchase will be donated to our cause! More than 600 top stores are participating!

The Internet Our Website

Global and National Events Calendar

Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism

Prisons and Poisons

November Coalition Projects

Get on the Soapbox! with Soap for Change

November Coalition: We Have Issues!

November Coalition Local Scenes

November Coalition Multimedia Archive

The Razor Wire
Bring Back Federal Parole!
November Coalition: Our House

Stories from Behind The WALL

November Coalition: Nora's Blog

September 14, 2009 -- National Law Review (US)

7th Circuit Chief Judge Calls for Loosening of Sentencing Guidelines

By Lynne Marek, National Law Review


Judge Frank Easterbrook urged the U.S. Sentencing Commission on Wednesday to loosen the federal sentencing guidelines so that judges waste less time in precisely determining ranges that may not matter anyway.

In testimony before the commission in Chicago, Easterbrook, chief judge of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said the commission's "most important current task" is revamping the structure of the guidelines in light of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions that made the guidelines merely advisory.

Now that judges can sentence outside the ranges set by the guideline tables, he said, they shouldn't be spending so much time calculating those ranges in the first place.

Easterbrook had two specific proposals. First, the ranges should be made longer -- currently, a 25 percent spread is allowed between the number of months at the bottom and the number of months at the top of the range. Second, the ranges should overlap with each other more so that the possible prison times in one range overlap more with the possible prison times in the next most lenient and the next harshest ranges.

"These two changes will reduce the need to make precise findings that do not affect the outcome, and thus save time for both district and appellate judges without sacrificing any of the statutory goals," Easterbrook said.

Even under advisory guidelines, district judges are still required to calculate an appropriate range before using their own discretion in determining a sentence. Likewise, appellate judges must still make sure that the range calculation was done correctly even when a sentence is outside the range.

The sentencing commission is holding regional hearings across the United States to get feedback from judges, prosecutors, probation officers, public-interest lawyers and others on federal sentencing practices 25 years after the enactment of the Sentencing Reform Act, which created the guidelines largely to curtail disparities in sentencing.

The hearings in Chicago follow earlier sessions in New York, Atlanta, and Stanford, Calif., with more to come in Denver next month; Austin, Texas, in November; and Phoenix in January.

Easterbrook is not alone in suggesting changes to the guidelines. Other federal judges who testified last week said some of the sentences were too harsh. Federal prosecutors who testified mainly deferred to a separate Justice Department effort under way to review sentencing policy.

Douglas Berman, a professor at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law who writes a blog on sentencing law and policy, said judges broadly agree that the guidelines should be revamped -- with appellate judges in particular wanting some clarification as to what their roles are in reviewing range calculations.

"Circuit judges are now struggling to figure out what their job is in an advisory guideline system," Berman said. "It's not clear that the checking they're doing serves much of a function."

Indeed, Easterbrook seems a bit annoyed by the exercise of verifying the lower courts' calculations. "It is a make-work prescription," he said.

Back to Dissenting Opinions of Judges

If you have a Dissenting Opinion of a Federal or State Judge, please mail or e-mail a copy to:

November Coalition
282 West Astor
Colville, WA 99114
(509) 684-1550

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

Questions or problems? Contact