Reform for White Collar Federal Sentencing Requirements on the Horizon?
The United State Sentencing Commission (USSC) is the federal panel that develops federal sentencing policies and procedures for criminal crimes. The USSC has recently been in the news because of its decision to reduce the federal sentencing guideline range for drug-related crimes. Furthermore, this week the USSC announced that it would be undertaking additional reforms and would be considering possible changes to the federal sentencing guidelines for certain white–collar crimes. In order to bring about this reform, the USSC has been reviewing data, and hearing testimonies from judges, victims, defense attorneys and other persons. The USSC will work in conjunction with the U.S. Congress in order to evaluate and reduce the current severity and scope of mandatory minimum sentencing penalties. The USSC will also be carefully evaluating the fairness of white collar crime sentencing.
White-collar crimes are those crimes that are economic in nature. White collar crimes such as fraud carry sentencings based on the total financial damages/loss experienced by an injured plaintiff. Federal sentencing guidelines are not mandatory. However, they are advisory in nature and though many judges utilize the suggested guidelines in order to maintain consistency in judicial sentencing, others believe that the advisory aspect of such sentencing guidelines often bring about unfair results when it comes to the penalties and punishments that are imposed on white collar criminals.
The Impetus for Reform
Earlier this year, the USSC reduced the drug crime federal sentencing guideline ranges. Such reductions were applied to all types of drugs and will be retroactively applied to the current inmate population. The USSC’s decision to reform the federal sentencing guidelines for drug crimes has encouraged advocates of white collar sentencing guideline reforms. Such advocates believe that the drug reforms are a signal that the USSC is finally ready to address the federal sentencing guidelines for white collar crimes.
Another impetus for the reform has been the fact that for years many federal judges have ignored the current guidelines, and have imposed sentences that are often not in line with current federal guidelines. Some see this lack of adherence as an indication that the current sentencing guidelines are out of touch with the realities of white collar criminal trials, and thus new standards are needed that reflect this reality. Lastly, the rampant overcrowding of federal prisons has required lawmakers to begin to consider ways to cut costs, and lower the amount of detained criminals. By lowering sentencing requirements, white collar criminals and drug criminals will spend less time in jail, which would presumably decrease the amount of costs associated with federal imprisonment.
Challenges to Reform
Political support for white collar criminal sentencing reform is not as strong as the support for drug crime reform. This is partially because of the country’s lack of sympathy for those who commit economic crimes. In the wake of the 2008 financial crises and the mass government bailout of financial institutions guilty of rampant economic crimes, many struggling Americans are not as sympathetic to white collar criminals who are often perceived as upper class and educated swindlers. In contrast, the reform of the drug crime sentencing guidelines was seen as a way to facilitate economic and racial equality because the old sentencing guidelines were disproportionately affecting minorities. Ultimately, the reform of the white collar criminal sentencing guidelines does not have nearly as much political and public interest as drug crime sentencing reform.
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