Publication Date


Document Type

Survey Article


The rule of law governing sentencing in the federal courts is becoming more and more of an intellectual exercise; one that may be interesting to the academics, but is confusing and frustrating to the individuals affected by the process. A review of the decisions issued in 1996 by the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, as well as those of the United States Supreme Court, confirms this trend to intellectualize the sentencing process.

Most people who are confronted by the criminal justice system have strong emotions attached to the experience. Crime victims have suffered unjustly and want to see someone pay for their suffering. They want to be made whole. The defendants have been accused of doing something reprehensible, have been arrested and forced into court, have had to deal with attorneys, and have suffered the ruination of their families and normal lives. Given the emotional nature of the experience for the nonprofessionals involved in the sentencing, it is not far-fetched to conclude that these people are not pleased with intellectual answers to their questions. For example, only an academician could be satisfied with the explanation that the quantity of LSD involved in the case is considered to be one weight for purposes of determining the sentencing guideline range, but is a different weight for purposes of determining the minimum mandatory sentence that may trump the guidelines.

The intellectual aspects of sentencing require the sentencing participants to follow two sets of competing rules at the same time, to pretend that sentencing is both uniform and uniformly individualized, and to negotiate agreements that could be undermined by the third-party probation officer that prepares the presentence report. This Article reviews the Eleventh Circuit and Supreme Court sentencing guideline decisions of 1996. The decisions that support the above thesis are discussed first, followed by a review of the other significant decisions of the year.