Sentencing Commission Surveys District Judges

A 2010 survey of federal district court judges conducted by the U.S. Sentencing Commission yielded some results that are very interesting to Atlanta criminal defense attorneys. The survey covered five broad areas:

  1. Statutory and structural sentencing issues
  2. Sentencing hearings
  3. Guideline application issues
  4. Departures
  5. General assessments

67.8 percent of the judges surveyed responded. The judges who responded presided over 79 percent of the federal sentences in 2008 and 2009. Out of the 50 judges who sentenced the most people, 43 responded.

The judges thought the mandatory minimums for all offenses was generally too high – 62%; too low – 0%; appropriate – 38%.

For specific offenses, the judges thought the mandatory minimum sentences were:

  • Trafficking crack cocaine – 76% said too high
  • Receipt of child pornography – 71% said too high
  • Trafficking marijuana – 54% said too high

Some offenses that some judges thought had mandatory minimums that were too low:

  • Production of child pornography – 10% said too low
  • Aggravated identity theft – 18% said too low

58 percent of the judges strongly or somewhat agreed that sentencing guidelines should be de-linked from statutory minimum sentences (i.e., the guideline ranges should be set by the Commission independently from mandatory minimum sentences).

66 percent of judges strongly or somewhat agreed that courts should have the authority to order restitution to victims in all cases.

66 percent of judges strongly or somewhat agreed that the distinction between a minor or minimal participant, and the distinction between and organizer/leader and manager/supervisor should be explained more clearly.

Source: U.S. Sentencing Commission, “Results of Survey of United States District Judges January 2010 through March 2010”