A Partial Fix of a Broken Guideline: A Proposed Amendment to Section 2G2.2 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines
28 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2019 Last revised: 2 Feb 2020
Date Written: August 2, 2019
Except for the federal criminal penalties for crack cocaine offenses, no specific non-capital penalty structure has been more widely criticized than USSG § 2G2.2 and the corresponding federal penal statutes, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252 & 2252A. Together, those provisions govern penalties for child pornography offenses other than those involving actual production of child pornography. Indeed, one of the leading sources of criticism has been the United States Sentencing Commission, whose 300-plus-page report to Congress in December 2012 made a compelling case for changing both the guideline and, to a lesser degree, the statutes.
The current sentencing guideline for non-production offenses is fundamentally broken, as evidenced by the fact that only 28.4 percent of defendants sentenced under section 2G2.2 receive within-range sentences and 69.1 percent of defendants receive downward variances or departures (unrelated to their substantial assistance or participation in a fast-track program). The vast majority of child pornography defendants receive downward variances from their guideline ranges based on sentencing judges’ subjective senses of what appropriate sentences should be. Because judges have no meaningful national benchmark from which to render sentencing decisions, widespread sentencing disparities exist – in conflict with the central purpose of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. In addition, because the current guideline fails to offer any meaningful benchmark, federal prosecutors around the country engage in a wide variety of different charging and plea-bargain practices resulting in significant sentencing disparities among similar defendants.
Although the best solution to the problems with the current child pornography sentencing scheme would require congressional intervention, Congress appears unwilling to make any changes in the statutory handcuffs currently on the Commission. Therefore, I have set forth a detailed proposed amendment to section 2G2.2 that could be adopted by the Commission without congressional authorization. If the Commission does not amend the guideline, then my proposal provides a detailed roadmap for federal district judges to “vary” from the current, broken guideline pursuant to the authority granted by the Supreme Court in United States v. Booker and Kimbrough v. United States.
Keywords: Child Pornography, Federal Sentencing
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