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Ted Kennedy and Federal Sentencing

Like most folks, I was saddened to learn that Ted Kennedy has passed away. He has, of course, left a tremendous legacy in this country that will be recounted by many in the coming days and weeks.

One of his lesser known contributions to our nation was as one of the original forces behind the legislation that created the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Though, of course, he didn’t see how they would come to be used, his original impulse was good and progressive.

Senator Kennedy (and others, to be sure) was rightly unhappy with the unwarranted disparities between defendants of different races and economic statuses in federal court. Well-off white defendants received more lenient treatment, in general, than poor minority defendants. The Sentencing Reform Act was supposed to ameliorate that disparity.

Sadly, it worked for the most part, but by jacking up the sentences of well-off whites and tweaking which disparities count as “unwarranted” (see, e.g., the crack/powder guidelines), as well as reducing the kinds of facts about individual defendants that judges can consider.

Still, you have to give Senator Kennedy credit for being willing to get involved in the structure of the criminal justice system, and to try to work to change things for the better.

If you have questions about how federal criminal charges are different than state criminal charges, please visit this page on Maryland federal criminal charges or Washington DC federal criminal charges.