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White collar crime sentencing in the spotlight

The U.S. Sentencing Commission thinks it got it just about right.

The U.S. Department of Justice, conversely, thinks that the commission got things flatly wrong, going too far in its suggested sentencing adjustments in white collar criminal cases.

And many defense attorneys across the country think that the commission -- a judicial branch agency tasked with making sentencing recommendations for the nation's federal courts -- didn't go nearly far enough in its suggested reform measures.

It is at this juncture that the expression "caught between a rock and a hard place" comes to mind.

Here's what has been happening recently in the sphere of criminal sentencing in white collar crime cases.

In a nutshell, a federal panel from the commission recently offered up several material changes in sentencing guidelines that it believes are warranted to foster greater logic and equity in the sentences being handed down in many white collar fraud cases. The DOJ strenuously objects to the recommendations, which most centrally would reduce incarceration terms in many instances, saying that term reductions are contrary to "overwhelming societal consensus."

And, as noted, critics of the suggested reforms say that they are too limited and need expanding. They are at stark loggerheads with the rationale and rhetoric being served up by DOJ spokespersons.

Although white collar crime was an essentially back-burner item on the DOJ's radar for many years, high-profile fraudulent activity in the housing market and on Wall Street over the past handful-plus of years have elevated the subject matter to a front-page agenda topic.

It is thus unsurprising that a strident debate has now broken out regarding sentencing outcomes in white collar cases.

We will visit in some detail in our next blog post what recently occurred at a hearing in which the above-cited parties clashed while presenting markedly different views on sentencing reform.

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