Blog Article 

 Federal Sentence Reform 

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Michael Santos

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UC Hastings Law School is hosting a symposium on federal sentence reform on February 13, 2015. Distinguished speakers include US Attorney Melinda Haag and Steve Kalar, Federal Defender for the Northern District of California. Judge Charles Bryer, ND California, will keynote the symposium. I’m honored that Kyla Rowe and Emily Knox, of UC Hastings, invited me to provide closing remarks the symposium.

Federal Sentence Reform

When we consider reform in the judicial system, progress advances really slowly. Ten years ago today, the US Supreme Court made its landmark ruling in United States v. Booker. Prior to a few influential Supreme Court decisions that include Booker, federal sentencing laws were much more arbitrary. Judges could rely upon a preponderance of the evidence when sentencing defendants to terms measured in decades. Cases like Booker, Blakely, and Fanfan had massive implications on federal sentence reform.

Despite a decade passing since the historic Booker decision, those judicial rulings haven’t gone far enough. Our country still leads the world in imprisonment rates. There is a lot of talk about mass incarceration being the greatest social injustice of our time. Yet we still lead the world in the number of people per capita that we incarcerate.

Several years before the historic Booker decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy of the US Supreme Court called upon lawyers to come together to fight for federal sentencing reform. He said that we incarcerate far too many people in our nation and the sentences that are far too long. Yet prison population levels continued to rise. Attorney General Eric Holder made a similar speech that grabbed headlines when he spoke before the American Bar Association on August 12, 2013. I remember those headlines well, because on that same day, I concluded my obligation of more than 26 years to the Bureau of Prisons.

Since I’ve served longer than a quartercentury in prisons of every security level, I feel very passionate about the need for federal sentencing reform. I’m grateful to Emily Knox and Kyla Rowe for opening this opportunity to contribute to such a distinguished audience from San Francisco’s legal community. In addition to providing closing remarks at the symposium, I’m drafting an article for the UC Hastings Law Review.

To truly bring federal sentence reform, we need to take the same type of disruptive, innovative approach that companies from San Francisco and Silicon Valley use to bring transformative change. I’ll provide some of those ideas in my closing remarks at the symposium for federal sentence reform and in the journal article I submit. I hope to see you at the symposium for Federal Sentence Reform.

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