Lesser Sentences For Less Serious Offenders
Crimes are usually categorized as felonies or misdemeanors based on their nature and the maximum punishment that can be imposed. A felony involves serious misconduct that is punishable by death or by imprisonment for more than one year. Most state criminal laws subdivide felonies into different classes with varying degrees of punishment. Crimes that do not amount to felonies are misdemeanors or violations. A misdemeanor is misconduct for which the law prescribes punishment of no more than one year in prison. Lesser offenses, such as traffic and parking infractions, are often called violations and are considered a part of criminal law.
Laws passed by Congress or a state must define crimes with certainty. A citizen and the courts must have a clear understanding of a criminal law’s requirements and prohibitions. The elements of a criminal law must be stated explicitly, and the statute must embody some reasonably discoverable standards of guilt. If the language of a statute does not plainly show what the legislature intended to prohibit and punish, the statute may be declared void for vagueness.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission is considering changes that would provide lesser sentences for less serious offenders
July 11, 2013
As prison populations swell, the Justice Department is seeking sentencing changes that would keep tough penalties for violent and repeat drug offenses, but provide reduced or alternative sentences for less serious offenders.
Sentencing changes, including mandatory minimum sentences established in 1984 “led to great success, but they also took a great human and fiscal toll,” Jonathan Wroblewski, director of the Justice Department’s policy and legislation office, wrote in an annual report sent Thursday to Patti Saris, chairwoman of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
“Violent crime in the United States is now near generational lows,” Wroblewski wrote in his report to the commission. “At the same time, the U.S. prison population exploded and overall criminal justice spending with it.”
The U.S. Sentencing Commission is an independent government agency that sets sentencing policies for the federal courts. Each year, the commission reviews the guidelines and may act to change them. Federal law requires the Justice Department’s criminal division to submit a report assessing the guidelines and recommending changes.
The letter urges the commission to consider pragmatic sentencing changes enacted at the state level as potential models for change at the federal level. Many states, faced with prison overcrowding and tight budgets, have opted for shorter sentences for non-violent offenders and more robust efforts to prevent repeat offending, the letter said.
“These changes have no doubt sprung in part out of budgetary necessity,” the letter said. “But they have also come from a growing understanding of new research into what works among various approaches to sentencing and corrections.”
The Justice Department in the report suggests higher penalties for firearms trafficking and gun buyers who lie to purchase guns for other people, such as felons, who are prohibited from owning firearms. Source
Criminal Defense Attorney Andrew D Stine
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