The U.S. Sentencing Commission
Annual Report 1998

Year in Review

  • In January 1998, the Sentencing Commission published for comment a number of proposed amendments, including broad changes in the theft, fraud, and other economic crimes guidelines; issues on telemarketing fraud and other congressional initiatives; and proposals to address a number of circuit conflicts. Subsequently, the Commission held (1) a public hearing in Washington, DC, that focused on the telemarketing fraud issue, (2) a hearing in San Francisco to receive comment on the proposed amendments to the theft, fraud, and tax guidelines, and (3) its annual, March public hearing covering all the proposed guideline amendments.
  • In the fall of 1997, the Commission initiated a project to assess its organizational goals, structures, and processes in order to best serve the judiciary, other court professionals, and the public generally. In 1998, Commission staff teams designed plans to implement concrete improvements in the following areas: (1) policy development; (2) data, statistics, and research; (3) human resource development and financial management; and (4) the orientation of new commissioners. In late 1998, the Commission began a gradual implementation of these improvements.
  • Subsequently, on May 1, 1998, the Sentencing Commission sent to Congress 11 amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines. Most notably, the Commission adopted an amendment that provides (1) a sentence increase for fraud that involves mass marketing and (2) an additional sentence increase for fraud that is committed substantially outside the U.S., involves relocating to another jurisdiction to evade law enforcement, or otherwise involves sophisticated concealment. These 11 amendments took effect November 1, 1998.
  • In May 1998, the Commission again co-sponsored the National Sentencing Guidelines Seminar, held in Clearwater Beach, Florida. This program was attended by approximately 150 federal probation officers and 100 defense attorneys from across the country.
  • During the summer of 1998, the Commission and the Criminal Law Committee of the Judicial Conference field-tested a proposed revision of the definition of “loss” as used in theft and fraud cases. In September, many of the judges and probation officers who had participated in the test exercise traveled to Washington, DC, for a day-long debriefing session. In October, Commission staff issued a report summarizing the principal recommendations from the debriefing session.
  • The Sentencing Commission is working with the Federal Judicial Center in the development of programming for the Federal Judicial Television Network (FJTN). In the summer of 1998, former Commission chair, Judge Richard P. Conaboy, was the featured guest in the network’s first edition of Perspectives, a news magazine show for probation and pretrial services officers.
  • In August, the Commission named Timothy B. McGrath as its interim staff director, succeeding Dr. John H. Kramer, who returned in the fall to the Pennsylvania State University where he is a tenured professor of sociology and criminal justice. Mr. McGrath first joined the Commission upon the appointment of Judge Conaboy as chair, and has supervised the daily operations of the Chair’s Office since 1995.
  • In response to the Telemarketing Fraud Prevention Act of 1998, the Commission in September adopted additional amendments to the sentencing guidelines. These “emergency” amendments further increase penalties for sophisticated fraudulent schemes, including telemarketing schemes, that impact large numbers of vulnerable victims. These amendments also took effect November 1, 1998.
  • In September, the Commission convened a staff Policy Development Team to further advise the Commission on issues raised by the No Electronic Theft Act of 1997 (the “NET Act”). In the NET Act, Congress directed the Commission to ensure that the guideline penalties for a defendant convicted of a crime against intellectual property are sufficiently stringent to deter such a crime and that the guidelines provide for consideration of the value and quantity of infringed upon items.
  • The U.S. Sentencing Commission announced in late August the resignation of its chair, Judge Richard P. Conaboy, effective October 31, 1998. The chair’s decision allows for the appointment of a new, full slate of commissioners to the seven-member panel. The holdover status of Commissioners Michael S. Gelacak, Michael Goldsmith, and Judge Deanell R. Tacha expired with the adjournment of the 105th Congress on October 21, 1998. The other three commissioner positions have been vacant for more than two years.
  • In advancing the Commission’s research and information dissemination agenda, Commission staff in the fall presented a number of papers at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Criminology. Topics included computer offense conduct, immigration offenses, methamphetamine offenses, and sentencing guidelines for juveniles.
  • In 1998, the Commission received documentation on approximately 51,000 cases sentenced under the guidelines. The Commission coded and assimilated the information from these sentencings into its comprehensive, computerized data collection system.
  • The “HelpLine” provided guideline application assistance to approximately 200 calls a month.
  • The Commission’s training staff continued to provide guideline application and sentencing- related training to judges, probation officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and others. During 1998, Commission staff trained more than 2,500 individuals at 47 training sessions, including ongoing programs sponsored by the Federal Judicial Center and the Department of Justice.
  • During 1998, Commission staff also received and responded to numerous information requests from Congress, attorneys, government agencies, researchers, inmates and their families, and the public.