Newsbrief: The Continuing Revolt of the Black Robes, Part I 2/6/04

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Discontent within the federal judiciary over Attorney General John Ashcroft's hard line on judicial discretion in sentencing continued to simmer this week. In Pennsylvania, retiring US District Court Judge Robert Cindrich blasted a Justice Department-backed vote in Congress last year that reduces judges' ability to depart from federal sentencing guidelines by giving more lenient sentences than those called for and requires that every such downward departure be reported to the Justice Department.

The guidelines supported by Ashcroft are "morally wrong" and have disproportionately affected the poor and the non-white, Cindrich told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Monday. Federal judges have become little more than functionaries, he added. "We have been sidelined. Make no mistake about it."

The guidelines result in big drug dealers and violent criminals getting reduced sentences if they provide information to prosecutors, but small-time offenders with no information to provide get harsh sentences, according to Cindrich. "The ones at the bottom of the food chain have no one to offer up," he said. "That's one of the great frustrations. It happens all the time. And as judges, we're stuck."

Cindrich's is only the latest judicial voice to rise in protest over the ever-contracting sphere of judicial discretion in sentencing. US Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist criticized Congress and the Justice Department for the new restrictions in his annual state of the courts address in late December, and the conference of US 9th Circuit Court judges in the West lambasted the law as unjust last month.

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Issue #323, 2/6/04 Drug War Kills More Than a Cop a Month | HEA Struggle Enters New Year as Bush Budget Pushes Souder Reform | Mothers to Mothers: New York Drug Reform Activists Visit Argentina | Marijuana Rx for Methamphetamine? Hawaii May Give It a Try | Offer and Appeal: New Ink Stamps and Strobe Lights -- DRCNet Needs Your Support in 2004 | Newsbrief: San Francisco Releases Proposition S Report, Gives Okay to Possible City-Supported Medical Marijuana Co-ops | Newsbrief: Update -- Colorado Confrontation on Hold Pending Federal Court Ruling | Newsbrief: Lane County Won't Be Sensible -- Group Ends Marijuana Amendment Effort | Newsbrief: Florida Pain Doctor Sees Murder Charge Dropped | Newsbrief: Dutch Do De Facto Decriminalization for Small-Time Cocaine Smugglers | Newsbrief: The Continuing Revolt of the Black Robes, Part I | Newsbrief: The Continuing Revolt of the Black Robes, Part II | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | This Week in History | DRCNet Temporarily Suspending Our Web-Based Write-to-Congress Service Due to Funding Shortfalls -- Your Help Can Bring It Back -- Keep Contacting Congress in the Meantime | The Reformer's Calendar

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