Law and federal and state courts

Discuss the relationships among judicial activism, federalism, sentencing guidelines, and mandatory sentences. In your opinion have sentencing guidelines and mandatory sentencing had basically positive or negative consequences? Support you answer. According to Solimine (2002) judicial activism is the term that encompasses both how the federal courts police the boundaries between federal and state power and how federal and state courts interact. So, this is basically the relationships between federal and state courts, or the interaction of federal and state law and federal and state courts.

In my opinion sentencing guidelines and mandatory sentencing had basically some positive and negative consequences. Sentencing guidelines provide a recommended sentencing range based on the seriousness of the offense and the criminal history of the offender. In arriving at a sentence, judges first calculate the severity of the crime. Next, with the help of probation officers, the judge computes the criminal history score (the lower the number the better for the defendant). The recommended sentence is then located in the appropriate grid.

The impact of the recommended sentence depends on whether the jurisdiction has adopted voluntary or presumptive sentencing guidelines. Voluntary sentencing guidelines are most commonly employed. Recommended sentencing ranges are derived by analyzing the types of sanctions judges in the jurisdiction have imposed in various types of cases in the past. Thus, descriptive guidelines codify past sentencing practices as standards for future cases. Once adopted, these guidelines may be used by judges voluntarily, but they are advisory only.

Voluntary sentencing guidelines do not have the force of law, and noncompliance by a judge creates no right to appeal the sentence. Sentencing guideline laws are associated with increases in sentencing severity. This has been the experience in Minnesota (Tonry 1993), Pennsylvania (Kramer and Lubitz 1985), and Florida (Holten and Handberg 1990). The same holds true at the federal level. In 1987 federal prisons held about 42,000 inmates. By 1999 the federal prison population had increased to 135,246 prisoners.

There is, however, a debate in the literature whether increasing prison populations are attributable to sentencing guidelines or simply reflect long-term trends (Moody and Marvell 1996). But federal sentencing guidelines remain highly controversial. Indeed many federal judges, probation officers, defense attorneys, and even some prosecutors resent and resist the guidelines. According to Michael Tonry (1993), the federal sentencing guidelines “are a failure and should be radically revised or repealed.

” In support of this conclusion he offers the following arguments: First, the guidelines are unduly harsh, as reflected in the dramatic increase in the federal prison population. Second, the guidelines have failed to reduce disparities in federal sentencing. Finally, the guidelines contribute to unfairness in sentencing because they are rigid and complex. Judges are specifically not allowed to consider the defendant’s employment status or family life in passing sentence.

State guidelines are not as controversial, mainly because they are more diverse and often allow greater discretion to judges. But this greater flexibility has also lessened their impact. Moreover, not all efforts to develop sentencing guidelines have been successful. Some efforts foundered because legislatures were unwilling to devote sufficient resources to the task. But mainly the political culture of the state was not conducive to generating the necessary consensus needed to develop and implement guidelines (Tonry 1993). Consider New York (Griset 1995).

The members of the New York commission reflected the same political divisions as were found in the state’s criminal justice policy-making circles. Unlike Minnesota, where the commission members were all committed to sentencing reform and shared a vision for sentencing guidelines, the New York commissioners Mandatory minimum sentencing laws on the other hand, are one method legislatures use to increase the severity of sentencing. These types of laws are typically enacted in response to allegations that lenient judges are allowing many serious offenders (particularly violent ones) to go free.

(The “proof ” of this proposition is often limited to one or two highly publicized cases. ) Virtually all states have passed mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Typically, mandatory minimum sentencing laws require that offenders convicted of certain offenses must be sentenced to a prison term of not less than a specified period of years, and nonprison sentences (such as probation) are expressly precluded. In short, a term of imprisonment is mandated regardless of the circumstances of the offense or the background of the individual.