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January 31, 2004 - Associated Press

Judge Tapes Sentencing in Wake of New Law

NEW YORK (AP) --A federal judge took the unusual step of videotaping a criminal sentencing amid a backlash over a new law aimed at limiting lighter sentences.

U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein said he plans to begin taping all of his sentencing proceedings -- a first, he claimed, for any federal court.

The new law is intended to make it more difficult for district judges to depart from sentencing guidelines, and to make it easier for the government to appeal light sentences.

Weinstein said after the taping Thursday in Brooklyn that the law effectively gives the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals the power to resentence defendants when it finds that a so-called "downward departure" was unjustified.

"It would be very hard to do that without seeing the defendant," said Weinstein, adding he would make all tapes available to the appeals court.

Weinstein, who has a reputation as an activist judge, is among several federal judges who have openly accused Congress of trying to bully them into imposing harsher sentences.

Appeals court spokesman Stephen Young and U.S. attorney's office spokesman Robert Nardoza wouldn't comment.

Details of the videotaped sentencing -- including what sentence was meted out -- were unavailable because the defendant is cooperating in an ongoing investigation. She was videotaped with her two children as her attorney argued her case.

News cameras are barred from federal courtrooms. Closed-circuit cameras have been used in high-profile trials, but only to feed live images to spectators in overflow rooms.

Prosecutors complained for years that judges have too much leeway in imposing sentences.

The law reduced federal judges' discretion in sentencing criminals and required reports to Congress on any judge who departs from sentencing guidelines. It was tucked into an anti-crime bill signed into law by President Bush in April.

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