Sentencing in Tax Cases after Booker: Striking the Right Balance between Uniformity and Discretion

38 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2014

See all articles by Scott A. Schumacher

Scott A. Schumacher

University of Washington - School of Law

Date Written: March 13, 2014


It has been nearly ten years since the Supreme Court’s seminal decision in United States v. Booker, in which the Court invalidated the mandatory application of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. In the cases that followed, the Court addressed subsidiary issues regarding the application of the Guidelines and the scope of appellate review. However, despite — or perhaps because of — these opinions, there is little consensus regarding the status and extent of appellate review, as well as the discretion afforded sentencing courts. More troubling, what consensus there is seems to permit judges to impose any sentence they wish, as long as the appropriate sentencing procedures are followed. As a result, we are in danger of returning to “the shameful lack of parity, which the Guidelines sought to remedy.”

The Sentencing Reform Act and the Sentencing Guidelines were designed to reduce disparity in sentencing and to reign in what one commentator described as a “lawless system.” However, the Guidelines as ultimately conceived drastically limited the sentencing judge’s ability to impose a sentence that was appropriate for the conduct and culpability of the defendant, creating a different kind of sentencing disparity. The current, post-Booker system provides more guidance than the pre-Guidelines system, but permits sentencing judges to disregard the Guidelines and develop their own sentencing policy. As a result, rather than having a system that allows for sentences to be tailored to individual defendants, the current system allows sentences to be imposed based on the penal philosophy of individual judges. This will inevitably lead to unwarranted sentencing disparity.

This article traces the recent history of criminal sentencing and, relying on the influential works of John Rawls and H.L.A. Hart on theories of punishment, argues for a better system that allows for both guidance to sentencing judges and appropriately individualized sentencing. My recommendation, although equally applicable to any federal sentence, will be examined through the lens of tax sentencing.

This paper was presented at Villanova Law Review’s Norman J. Shachoy Symposium on U.S. Tax Administration, Sept. 27, 2013.

Keywords: United States v. Booker, sentencing, federal sentencing guidelines, theories of punishment, tax crimes

Suggested Citation

Schumacher, Scott A., Sentencing in Tax Cases after Booker: Striking the Right Balance between Uniformity and Discretion (March 13, 2014). Villanova Law Review, Forthcoming, University of Washington School of Law Research Paper No. 2014-04, Available at SSRN:

Scott A. Schumacher (Contact Author)

University of Washington - School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98105-3020
United States


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