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FOUR FEDERAL JUDGES debated the merits of federal sentencing guidelines in a lively session last November in which questions arose about the wisdom of placing limits on judicial discretion and imposing draconian sentences that do not always fit the crime.
“I have seen a shift from (giving discretion) to the court to giving the discretion to the prosecutor,” said Judge Petrese B.Tucker of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Speaking at a program on the “Role of Federal Judges in the 21st Century,” Judge Tucker argued that setting mandatory minimum sentences handcuffs her ability to make judg ments on proper punishment, which she had when she was a state judge.
Judge Michael M. Baylson L’64, also from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, took the other side, saying that Congress indeed has the right to set mandatory minimums. “I just think it’s a fundamental balance of power … and judges shouldn’t put themselves in some supreme position.”
The federal guidelines, approved by Congress in 1987, were supposed to create consistent sentencing. But Third Circuit Appellate Judge Theodore A. McKee said that goal has not been achieved. Sentencing disparities remain “an absolute abomination” that lead to indefensible, “ridiculously long sentences” that promise to fill prisons in the future with a geriatric population.
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