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White-collar crime: sentencing guidelines too rigid, prominent judge says

If someone is convicted of a federal offense in St. Louis, the sentence he or she faces is governed by federal sentencing guidelines that apply across the country. These guidelines have had a reputation for years as being extremely unfair in many cases. For years, many federal judges have therefore called upon Congress to overhaul the guidelines.

The goal of such an overhaul would be to give judges more discretion to issue sentences that fit the facts of individual cases. The judges believe this would lead to fairer sentences that do not reduce complex cases to merely numbers on a two-dimensional grid, where virtually the only factors that matter are the severity of the offense and the number of prior offenses committed by the defendant.

Recently, another prominent federal judge added his voice to those who have expressed concern about the federal sentencing system. U.S. District Judge Jed Radoff of New York told a legal conference last week that the federal sentencing guidelines should be abolished entirely.

Instead of rigidly applying the numerical score called for in the guidelines, Judge Radoff believes, judges should be allowed to use their own discretion and common sense. In his view, judges would be able to properly consider multiple factors this way, with fairer outcomes.

In white-collar cases, in particular, Judge Radoff argues, the sentencing guidelines tend to put too much weight on the total dollar value of financial losses. It is all too easy to obsess about dollar amounts, especially when large Ponzi schemes are involved. In cases of embezzlement, bribery, or fraud, however, there are often many other relevant factors besides financial losses.

Source: "Rakoff says sentencing guidelines should be 'scrapped'," Thomson Reuters News & Insight, Nate Raymond, 3-11-13

Our firm handles situations similar to those discussed in this post in the St. Louis area. To learn more about our practice, please visit our page on white-collar crime defense.

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