2003 Report to the Congress: Downward Departures from the Federal Sentencing Guidelines


This report was submitted in response to section 401(m) of the the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today Act of 2003, Pub. L. No. 108-21. Through this report, the Commission considered the general purposes of sentencing identified by Congress in the Sentencing Reform Act, identified specific congressional concerns regarding departure decisions, and evaluated departure provisions throughout the Guidelines Manual in light of those general and specific concerns. (October 2003)

Key Findings

  • Departures perform important functions in the guideline systems, permitting the court to handle unusual cases and providing the Commission with important feedback.

  • The PROTECT Act enacted several procedural requirements that are expected to have a broad and substantial impact on departure practices.

  • Newly implemented policies by the U.S. Department of Justice are expected to impact departure practices significantly.

  • Government initiated departures and southwest border districts comprise a significant portion of downward departures.

  • Missing and unclear sentencing documentation limits the ability to draw conclusions from Commission departure data.