Mark Harris, a partner in Proskauer’s White Collar Defense and Investigations Group, recently spoke to Joe Mont at Compliance Week to discuss the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s proposed changes to the guidelines for punishment of white collar crime. Besides his ongoing focus on white collar sentencing in his legal practice, Harris serves as a member of the Board of Editors of the Federal Sentencing Reporter, and is a contributor to the leading treatise Practice Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
As previously reported on this blog here and here, the United States Sentencing Commission has proposed amendments to the widely criticized federal sentencing guidelines for economic crimes. On April 9, 2015, after hearing extensive public comment on the proposed amendments, the Commission voted to adopt an amended version of the Sentencing Guidelines which will take effect November 1st absent objection by Congress.
The changes are significant but not sweeping. Commission Chair Judge Patti B. Saris described the revisions as addressing “some problem areas, particularly at the high end of the loss table.” Despite objections by the Department of Justice and others that some of the amendments will create unwarranted leniency in the guidelines, the final amendments largely parallel those first proposed by the Commission in January.
Meanwhile, members of the defense bar argued that the changes do not go far enough in departing from an abstract numerical approach (measured by dollars and number of victims) when attempting to gauge culpability. James Felman, a defense attorney who co-chairs the American Bar Association’s criminal justice section and testified before the Commission, characterized the amendments as a “very meager response” to the problems endemic in § 2B1.1 of the Sentencing Guidelines, promising that “[w]e’ll keep lobbying the commission to do more.”
As previously reported on this blog, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has proposed several amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines for economic crimes. The amendments are designed to address criticism that § 2B1.1 of the Guidelines is vague, that it treats defendants who have secondary roles with undue harshness, and that it suggests disproportionately severe sentences for first-time offenders.
On March 18, 2015, the Sentencing Commission heard commentary and reviewed letters in response to a request for public comment on the proposed amendments. The Department of Justice asserted a vigorous opposition to several of the proposals, on the ground that they would result in unwarranted leniency for white-collar offenders. The DOJ also objected to adjusting victim losses for inflation in sentencing calculations, stating that any reduction would be contrary to “overwhelming societal consensus.”
In recent years, a growing chorus of federal judges and defense attorneys have protested that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for economic crimes regularly recommend inconsistent and unjust sentences. Critics claim that § 2B1.1 of the Guidelines suffers from a lack of clarity, that it treats defendants who have secondary roles in large schemes with undue harshness, and that it produces suggested prison terms that are disproportionately severe for first-time offenders who are not likely to reoffend. There is no dearth of examples to fuel those fires, as seemingly inconsistent outcomes abound. Last year, Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the Southern District of New York stated that “[the] arithmetic behind the sentencing calculations is all hocus-pocus —it’s nonsensical.”
Last week, the U.S. Sentencing Commission responded with proposed amendments to § 2B1.1 that are designed to remediate some of those shortcomings. The Sentencing Commission has also solicited input from interested parties on a broad range of associated issues. The relevant provisions up for amendment are: