By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK, Jan 30 (Reuters) - A federal judge in Brooklyn has
called for reforms to the sentencing guidelines for
drug-trafficking offenses, condemning the current system as
"deeply and structurally flawed."
U.S. District Judge John Gleeson outlined his opposition to
the drug-trafficking guidelines, which are promulgated by the
U.S. Sentencing Commission, in a 45-page memorandum dated
Monday. He said they aren't based on empirical data, U.S.
Sentencing Commission expertise or defendants' actual
"If they were, they would be much less severe, and judges
would respect them more. Instead, they are driven by drug type
and quantity, which are poor proxies for culpability," he wrote.
The memorandum was filed in advance of the March 8
sentencing of Ysidro Diaz, 37, who is charged with conspiring to
deliver one kilogram of heroin.
Diaz, described in the memorandum as a "run-of-the-mill,
low-level participant" in a drug organization, could face 8-10
years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, Gleeson
The judge suggested that the guidelines be overhauled to
"de-link" them from the quantity of drugs in question and rather
than to the actions of the defendant. Since that could be a
lengthy process, he also recommended that the commission cut its
guideline ranges by one-third in the interim.
Judges across the country have called on the commission for
almost two decades to reduce the range of drug-trafficking
sentences, Gleeson said in the memo.
The guidelines are also "a major contributor" to rising
federal prison populations, he wrote, pointing out that 50
percent of federal prisoners were drug offenders in 2011,
compared to 30 percent in 1984.
Judges can sentence outside the guideline range when they
disagree with the underlying policy, Gleeson wrote. From 2007 to
2011, the average sentence for all federal drug trafficking
cases has been 20 months below the average guidelines range
minimum, Gleeson said.
"The deep, easily traceable structural flaw in the current
drug trafficking offense guideline produces advisory ranges that
are greater than necessary to comply with the purposes of
sentencing," he wrote. "We must never lose sight of the fact
that real people are at the receiving end of these sentences."
This isn't the first time that Gleeson, a former federal
prosecutor appointed to the Eastern District of New York in
1994, has issued a call from the bench for sentencing reform. In
2012, he wrote a sentencing memorandum that said mandatory
minimum sentences in drug cases "distort the sentencing process
and mandate unjust sentences."
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn said
the office was reviewing the memorandum. A spokeswoman for the
U.S. Sentencing Commission declined to comment. A lawyer for
Diaz could not immediately be reached for comment.
The case is U.S. v. Diaz, U.S. District Court for the
Eastern District of New York, No. 11-821.
For the U.S.: Brendan King.
For Diaz: Joyce London.
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