Note: This post is adapted from a story I wrote for Criminal Legal News Magazine (criminallegalnews.org). Please contact them for permission to use any part of this story. Thanks —
Dale Chappell, the Zen Law Guy
Sentencing Commission Creates New Sentencing Tool for Judges
By Dale Chappell
The U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) recently created a new tool for judges that will let them compare sentences for similar defendants under specific guidelines to help “guide” them on what sentence may be appropriate for an offense. It’s also a valuable tool for the public in seeing how the judiciary is treating certain types of crimes.
It’s called Judiciary Sentencing Information (JSIN, pronounced “Jason”) and it’s an online sentencing data resource that provides quick and easy access to sentencing data for similarly-situated defendants in federal criminal cases. It combines the USSC’s massive database on federal sentencing, making it an easy way for judges to see what’s being handed down in the nation’s federal courts.
The information provided is cumulative sentencing data over the last five years for offenders sentenced under the same primary guideline, base offense level, and criminal history category under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines (USSG). JSIN first provides statistical information relating to the sentence in relation to the guideline range. Next it excludes certain information that would skew results, such as section 5K1.1 departures. JSIN then compares those offenders sentenced to prison to those sentenced to non-prison terms. And finally, JSIN provides the national average and median length of sentences handed to offenders in the same guideline “cell.” If there are fewer than three matches, JSIN does not return any results.
If more than one guideline is identified for a defendant, whichever guideline produces the highest base offense level, after all adjustments, is the one used by JSIN. With drug cases, the specific drug is taken into account. If more than one drug contributed to the offense, the drug that resulted in the highest penalty is used.
Certain sentences are excluded. These include probation-only sentences and other alternative-type sentences besides prison. As for the amount of time served, a sentence of “time served” is counted as just one day, under JSIN, and a life sentence (or more) is capped at 470 months. That’s the average life expectancy of a federal criminal defendant, the USSC says.
The USSC is careful to say that JSIN “does not reflect the Commission’s recommendation regarding the appropriate sentence to be imposed.” Instead, a judge should use data derived from JSIN as part of the sentencing factors the court is required to consider, under 18 U.S.C. section 3553(a), when imposing a sentence. It also says that JSIN should only be used after a judge has properly calculated the Guideline sentencing range and factored in any departures provided under the Guidelines.