The Case for a Federal Criminal Court System (and Sentencing Reform)

25 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2020 Last revised: 6 Nov 2020

Date Written: May 14, 2020


This article proposes the establishment of a federal criminal court system, comprised of separate criminal trial courts, circuit courts of appeal and a National Court of Criminal Appeals, with discretionary review by the Supreme Court. Compared to the 1970s, when there were many fewer cases per judge than there are today, federal criminal adjudications take twice as long, magistrates take on much greater adjudicatory load, and appellate courts much more frequently forego oral arguments, rely on legal staff, and issue unpublished opinions. A specialized judiciary would significantly enhance trial court efficiency and appellate court capacity to produce quality decisions. Furthermore, because there would be a superior appellate court devoted to ensuring uniform nationwide rules, such a system could more easily resolve doctrinal conflict on criminal justice issues than the current system, which relies on a Supreme Court that is failing to address most of the conflicts among the circuits. Perhaps the most important potential benefit of a division of the civil and criminal systems, however, is that the civil system would function more efficiently once criminal cases, which have docket priority at the trial court level, are diverted. This article also proposes that this separate federal criminal court system return to a more indeterminate sentencing regime that would shift much of the heavy lifting regarding criminal dispositions from judges to expert parole boards. This proposal would also lessen the appellate workload and ensure that trial judges in a specialized criminal court are not debilitated by the psychologically demanding analysis that currently accompanies sentencing.

Keywords: federal criminal courts, specialized courts, indeterminate sentencing,

Suggested Citation

Slobogin, Christopher, The Case for a Federal Criminal Court System (and Sentencing Reform) (May 14, 2020). California Law Review, Vol. 108, Forthcoming, Vanderbilt Law Research Paper No. 20-27, Available at SSRN:

Christopher Slobogin (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States

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