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The Associated Press
March 4, 2012

AP Enterprise: Federal sentences still vary widely
By Nedra Pickler

A new study shows that federal judges are handing out widely disparate sentences for similar crimes 30 years after Congress tried to create fairer results, but the differences don't line up with the party of the president who appointed the judges, despite any impressions that Republicans or Democrats may be tougher or softer on crime. Sentencing data from the past five years that was analyzed for The Associated Press by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse during this presidential election year show that sentences for the same types of crimes vary significantly between judges in the same courthouse. But the party of the president who picked a judge is not a good predictor of whether a judge will be tough or lenient on a defendant found guilty at trial. The analysis showed the judges who meted out the harshest average sentences after trials for three of the most common types of crime drugs, weapons and white-collar charges were split evenly between the two parties, based on which president appointed them. TRAC co-director David Burnham said the data raises questions about the extent to which the goal of equal justice under the law is being served in some districts. He said TRAC doggedly pursued the data because it's vital the public and the courts have evidence that could improve the justice system. "Criminal defense attorneys, for example, have long relied on anecdotal, sometimes gossipy information to advise their clients about the judge who is handling their case," said Burnham, a former investigative reporter for The New York Times whose articles on police corruption in the 1970s inspired the movie "Serpico," starring Al Pacino. "Every defendant should be able to have access to reliable information."

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University
Copyright 2012
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