U.S. Sentencing Commission
Year in Review
- A comprehensive review of the sentencing guidelines continued to be a top
agency priority in 1996. The review's objective is to reduce the complexity of
guideline application and to assess how well the guidelines are meeting the
congressional objectives outlined in the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. During
the year, staff developed eight simplification papers examining different
aspects of the guidelines: relevant conduct, criminal history, multiple counts,
departures and offender characteristics, sentencing options under the
guidelines, Chapter Three adjustments, level of detail in Chapter Two, and the
Sentencing Reform Act.
- The Commission declared a moratorium on guideline amendments in 1996
(except for those necessary to implement congressional directives) partly in
response to requests from judges, attorneys, and probation officers. The
amendment hiatus also allowed commissioners to sift through the voluminous
material produced by staff; gather insights from judges, attorneys, probation
officers, and academics on recommended changes; and begin narrowing the options
for guideline simplification and refinement.
- In March 1996, the Sentencing Commission held its annual public hearing on
proposed guideline amendments. Subsequently, on April 30, the Commission sent
Congress two guideline amendments that would significantly increase penalties
for individuals convicted of certain child sex offenses. The amendments
responded to congressional directives in the Sex Crimes Against Children
Prevention Act of 1995 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The amendments
took effect November 1, 1996.
- The House Subcommittee on Crime reviewed the Sentencing Commission's work,
conducting an oversight hearing on December 14, 1995. During the proceedings,
Subcommittee Chairman Bill McCollum characterized the guidelines as a "complicated,
finely-tuned system that has done a superb job of accomplishing the objective of
federal sentencing uniformity."
- In June, the Commission submitted to Congress two reports, one addressing
the issue of the deterrent effect of the guidelines on computer fraud and the
other analyzing cases of sexual abuse, child pornography, and the promotion of
prohibited sexual contact.
- The Commission appointed Dr. John H. Kramer Executive Director of
the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing and Professor of Sociology and
Criminal Justice at The Pennsylvania State University as its Interim
Staff Director in July 1996. In the Fall of 1996, the Commission voted to make
Dr. Kramer permanent Staff Director. He replaces Ms. Phyllis J. Newton, who
served as staff director for more than six years.
- In August, the Commission convened a public hearing in Denver, Colorado,
to hear suggestions for simplifying the federal sentencing guidelines.
Attention was focussed on three of the priority issues of the simplification
project: acquitted conduct, drug offenses and role in the offense, and
- In early October, the terms of Vice Chairman A. David Mazzone and
Commissioner Julie E. Carnes expired. Both Judge Mazzone, a U.S. District Judge
in Massachusetts and Judge Carnes, a U.S. District Judge in the Northern
District of Georgia, had served on the Commission since July 1990.
- The Commission's training staff continued to provide guideline application
assistance to judges, probation officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and
others. During 1996, Commission staff trained approximately 3,150 individuals
at 63 training sessions, including ongoing programs sponsored by the Federal
Judicial Center and the Department of Justice.
- Two Commission-staffed "hotlines" that provide guideline
application assistance continued to do booming business, together averaging 154
calls per month. One hotline responds to questions from judges and probation
officers, the other to questions from prosecuting and defense attorneys. In
January 1997, the two hotlines will merge into one to maximize operational
- The Commission's temporary assignment program for assistant U.S. attorneys
and assistant federal defenders continued through 1996. Two assistant federal
defenders and two assistant U.S. attorneys worked with the Commission in 1996.
Because of budget constraints, the Commission suspended operation of the
visiting probation officer program in December 1995 as the last two visiting
probation officers completed their assignments.
- During 1996, Commission staff received and responded to thousands of
information requests from Congress, attorneys, government agencies, researchers,
inmates and their families, and the public. In 1996, Commission staff responded
to more than 9,000 public information telephone calls and approximately 2,000
- The Commission issued two editions of its popular, periodic newsletter,
- The Commission joined the Internet community by inaugurating a home page
on the World Wide Web. The Commission's home page allows anyone with a
computer, a modem, and an account with an Internet service provider to have
24-hour access to a wealth of information about the agency and federal and state
sentencing practices. The home page was rated one of the hottest Internet sites
by USA Today.
- In March, the Commission released its proceedings book from its second
Symposium on Crime and Punishment in the United States. The symposium, "Corporate
Crime in America: Strengthening the ?Good Citizen' Corporation," focused on
changes in corporate and business culture since sentencing guidelines for
organizations became effective in 1991.
- The number of guideline cases rose to an all-time high of 42,436 in 1996,
driven by an increase in drug and immigration cases. Drug cases continued to
account for 40 percent of federal sentencings despite their increase in actual
- For the first time, crack cocaine was the most prevalent illegal substance
cited in drug offenses. Crack and powder cocaine together accounted for more
than half of all drug trafficking cases.
- The vast majority of federal defendants (80.8%) were sentenced to some
term of incarceration, with an average (mean) sentence of 62 months (51 months
when counting sentences of probation).
- Seventy percent of all defendants were sentenced within their applicable
guideline range. The rate of departures for substantial assistance stabilized
at 19 percent, but the rate of other downward departures increased.
- The Commission updated its computer software program that leads users
step-by-step through the guideline application process. The new version, ASSYST
2.1, incorporates all 1995 amendments, Chapters Seven and Eight from the Guidelines
Manual, and improvements to the user interface. Because of resource
considerations, the Commission anticipates that ASSYST 2.1 will be the last
version of the program.
- The Commission continued its support of the National Association of
Sentencing Commissions, provided it with space on the Commission's Internet web
site, and participated in its annual conference in Madison, Wisconsin.
- In advancing the Commission's research and information dissemination
agenda, staff presented five research papers and works in progress at the
American Society of Criminology's 1996 annual meeting in Chicago.
This annual report covers fiscal year 1996 (October 1, 1995, through
September 30, 1996). Unless otherwise denoted, "1996" refers to
fiscal year 1996.
United States Sentencing Commission