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Sizing up Sentences

NCJ Number
ABA Journal Volume: 85 Dated: November 1999 Pages: 42-47
Michael Higgins
Date Published
6 pages
Department of Justice data collected by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University revealed variations in sentencing of white-collar offenders in the Federal criminal justice system.
TRAC data revealed that about one white-collar defendant was sentenced to prison for every two convicted nationwide during 1993-97. More than 80 percent of those in the Western District of Wisconsin and more than 60 percent of those convicted in the Southern District of Florida were sent to prison. In contrast, fewer than 30 percent of those convicted in the District of New Jersey and in Arizona received prison sentences. A majority of attorneys interviewed for this article agreed that more than happenstance accounted for the sentencing disparities, especially in districts where TRAC data measured a large number of cases. Various factors in the sentencing guidelines gave prosecutors leeway on how to charge. One of the most important uses of flexibility was the prosecutor's decision about whether to add a money laundering charge to other charges. Other experts suggested that the mix of crimes and the severity of the conduct were factors in the variations among districts. Defense attorneys said that the problem was that tough jurisdictions pushed for prison time in too many cases. One expert reasoned that white-collar crime is a prototypical example of deterrable conduct. However, one defense attorney recommended a policy guiding United States attorneys on how to make decisions on topics such as when to credit substantial assistance or when to charge money laundering. Photographs