Federal Sentencing Reporter


The Federal Sentencing Reporter was launched more than two decades ago by legal experts and scholars Daniel J. Freed and Marc L. Miller, in collaboration with the Vera Institute of Justice. It is the only academic journal in the United States that focuses on sentencing law, policy, and reform.

Vera and the Federal Sentencing Reporter share an approach to policy change that relies on information, analytical examination, and innovation. Rare among scholarly journals, the Federal Sentencing Reporter focuses—in its authorship and readership—on academics as well as practitioners. In its pages, conversations take place among judges, lawyers, policymakers, and scholars. The publication is an intellectual resource that people in the field turn to for solutions and that academics rely on to propose, learn about, and discuss new ideas. Each issue offers in-depth analysis on a wide range of topics related to sentencing policies and practices.

The Federal Sentencing Reporter is published five times a year. For each issue, Vera posts on its web site the “Editor’s Observations” (a regular feature that highlights the themes of the issue), a selected article, and the table of contents. Other articles, subscription services, and archives are available through University of California Press


Volume: 26, Number: 2
December 2013

New Momentum for Federal Sentencing Reform

Excerpted from the Editors’ Observation: In early 2013, the prospect of federal statutory sentencing reform got a surprising boost when Senators Patrick Leahy and Rand Paul came together to propose The Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013. Not long thereafter, another pair of Senators not known for agreeing on much, Richard Durbin and Mike Lee, proposed another statutory sentencing reform bill known as The Smarter Sentencing Act. In August 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder, in a lengthy speech at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting, made an array of comments that made him sound more like a critic of the federal justice system than its formal leader. Among other notable claims, he described some federal mandatory minimum prison terms as “excessive” and “draconian” and said “they oftentimes generate unfairly long sentences”. He indicated an eagerness to work with Congress on sentencing reform proposals, and he issued a memorandum to federal prosecutors setting out new Justice Department charging policies intended to reduce the application of mandatory minimum prison sentences to certain nonviolent, low-level drug offenders.

This issue of FSR explores the new momentum for federal sentencing reform reflected in these important recent legislative and executive developments. This Issue not only includes commentary about these specific developments, but also provides additional materials presenting a wider and varied perspective on what these developments may mean and not mean for the future of the modern federal sentencing system.

Editors’ Observations
A Cynic’s Guide to All the Federal Sentencing Reform Buzz

Douglas A. Berman, Robert J. Watkins/Proctor and Gamble Professor of Law, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law & Editor, Federal Sentencing Reporter

Featured Article
Two Cheers for the New Paradigm 

Michael M. O’Hear, Associate Dean for Research and Professor of Law, Marquette University School of Law & Editor, Federal Sentencing Reporter

In this article, FSR Editor Michael O’Hear hails Attorney General Eric Holder’s August 2013 address to the American Bar Association as “a breath of fresh air,” through which the Department of Justice “offers its most promising and unequivocal endorsement yet of an emerging new criminal justice paradigm.” O’Hear traces the origins of this new paradigm back to the ideas and values that animated now well-established state and local reforms, especially to drug treatment courts, which first appeared in the early 1990s. As much as he sees “real promise” for positive system change reflected in the attorney general’s ABA speech, O’Hear also finds two significant gaps in Holder’s vision and the paradigm it embraces. The first gap relates to the lack of concern for the basic value of individual liberty, and the second one, to the overuse of very long sentences for serious crimes. O’Hear points out the conflict between these gaps and the new paradigm and proposes possible solutions to round out the article.

Other articles in this issue
(available through University of California Press)

Remarks at the Annual Meeting of American Bar Association’s House of Delegates 
Eric Holder, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice

Memorandum on Charging Mandatory Minimum Sentences and Recidivist Enhancements in Certain Drug Cases
Eric Holder, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice

Text of the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013

Text of the Smarter Sentencing Act

Impact Estimates of DOJ Policy Changes and Proposed Legislation Regarding Mandatory Minimums
Paul Hofer, Policy Analyst, Sentencing Resource Counsel Project, Federal Public and Community Defenders & Editor, Federal Sentencing Reporter

The Paul-Leahy “Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013” S. 619: Preventing Lives and Money From Being Lost Down The Drain
Molly Gill, Government Affairs Counsel, Families Against Mandatory Minimums

The Sixth Circuit Broke New Ground in Post-Booker Guideline Sentencing with a Pair of Important Decisions Hon. James L. Graham, Senior United States District Judge, Southern District of Ohio

Reflections of a First-Time Expert Witness
Jelani Jefferson Exum, Associate Professor of Law, The University of Toledo College of Law

Which Felonies Pose a “Serious Potential Risk of Injury” for Federal Sentencing Purposes 
Evan Tsen Lee, Professor of Law, University of California Hastings College of The Law, Lynn A. Addington, Associate Professor, Department of Justice, Law and Criminology, American University, and Stephen D. Rushin, Visiting Assistant Professor of Law, University of Illinois College of Law

The Potential of Community Corrections to Improve Communities and Reduce Incarceration
Vera Institute of Justice, Center on Sentencing and Corrections

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