Published on: Thursday, January 23, 2020

On January 22, 2020, the United States Sentencing Commission published a report titled Inter-District Differences in Federal Sentencing Practices.   

This report is the third in a series of reports. It examines variations in sentencing practices—and corresponding variations in sentencing outcomes—across federal districts since the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in United States v. Booker.  

Here are the reports key findings:

Building on its Intra-City study, the Commission’s current analysis measured districts’ average percent differences from the guideline minimums in relation to other districts during three periods between 2005 and 2017.11 While the extent of those differences vary depending on the specific primary guideline, the overarching trends indicate that, consistent with the findings of the Commission’s 2012 Booker Report, sentencing outcomes continue to depend at least in part upon the district in which the defendant is sentenced.

Variations in sentencing practices across districts increased in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Booker. These inter-district sentencing differences have persisted in the 13 years after Booker and six years after the Commission’s 2012 analysis.

Sentencing differences increased for each of the four major offense types analyzed (fraud, drug trafficking, firearms related offenses, and illegal reentry) during the Gall Period. This trend continued for some, but not all, of the four offense types in the six years following the last period analyzed in the Commission’s 2012 Booker Report.

Guideline amendments intended to promote uniformity by addressing judicial concerns regarding severity have had an inconsistent impact on inter-district disparity. Specifically, despite multiple significant revisions to the drug trafficking guideline, including the two-level reduction of the base offense level for all drugs, districts increasingly diverged in their sentencing practices for drug trafficking offenders. However, the comprehensive amendment to the illegal reentry guideline contributed to increasing uniformity in sentencing practices in the Post-Report Period.

Certain districts have consistently sentenced more—or less—severely in relation to the guideline minimums than other districts, both over time and across offense type. For each primary guideline analyzed over time, some districts were consistently among the districts furthest above the average percent difference, while others were consistently among the furthest below. Furthermore, in this most recent Post-Report Period, some districts were consistently among those furthest above the average for each of the four guidelines analyzed.

The Training Division provides sentencing resource materials that will help you argue for the best sentence possible for your clients.