During the sentencing hearing, a federal judge will create a document known as the Statement of Reasons to memorialize reasons why he made decisions. People should learn more about this Statement of Reasons, as it will influence administrative proceedings in the Bureau of Prisons—and potentially, access to programs that can lead to an earlier release date.
How a Statement of Reasons can Influence You:
Before we get into how a judge’s Statement of Reasons can influence a person’s journey through the federal prison system, we should start with a basic understanding of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984.
When I began serving my sentence, the Sentencing Reform Act had not yet taken effect. We were under a different system, known as indeterminate sentencing. Attributes of that sentencing scheme offered more access to good time credits, and also to earlier release mechanisms. For example, my judge imposed a 45-year sentence, but authorities released me after 26 years.
Legislators passed the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (SRA) with an intention of reducing sentencing disparities. They wanted to provide accuracy and equality in sentencing. Some people referred to the law as “truth in sentencing.”
Federal judges put the defendant’s sentence on record during the sentencing hearing, memorializing the criminal judgment. This process put an end to indeterminate sentences—which we described in an earlier article on the US Sentencing Guidelines:
Judges must report reasons behind a criminal sentence to the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC).
In the pre-SRA sentencing era, when a judge sentenced me, records didn’t clarify why a person in one jurisdiction would serve a certain length of time for a specific offense, while a similarly situated person would serve a different length of time in a different jurisdiction. If a sentencing judge did not articulate reasoning behind his or her decisions, a person lacked clarity to craft appeals.
Statement of Reasons at Sentencing
As part of the judge’s responsibility after sentencing a defendant, the USSC requires the sentencing judge to file five documents with the Sentencing Commission. Those documents include:
- The Statement of Reasons (SOR), codified in 28 USC §994(w),
- The Judgment and Commitment Order,
- The Plea Agreement,
- The Charging Document, and
- The Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (PSR).
People facing a criminal charge should understand each of those documents, because better understanding can lead to better mitigation strategies.
The SOR form provides information to the USSC in a standardized format. See a sample of the Statemement of Reasons Form by clicking link below:
The form facilitates the stated purposes of informing the defendant and the public behind the reasons why the defendant received a particular guideline and to guide probation officers and prison officials in the future.
The Administrative Office of the Courts created SOR form AE 245B for this purpose. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) reviews both the SOR and the PSR when assessing where the person will serve the sentence. Further, the SOR can serve as an outstanding resource to qualify a person for Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP). The SOR also assists the USSC in re-evaluating and re-examining the sentencing guidelines and policy statements.
BOP program statement 5322.13 mandates the BOP to consider the SOR to calculate each person’s prison security level. The SOR can assist a person with overcoming problems associated with an inaccurate PSR, which we discuss below and in other articles on our website at prisonprofessors.com.
If the PSR has inaccurate or incomplete information, a person can ask the sentencing judge to place specific language in the SOR to correct the PSR. The additional statements by the sentencing judge in the SOR can help a person qualify for specific BOP programs. The statements in the SOR can potentially lead to an earlier release date for the defendant.
The BOP staff will rely on the SOR and the PSR for classification and programming decisions. Since federal judges create the SOR, and a federal probation officer creates the PSR, a person can make a persuasive case that the SOR has more authority—which will prove valuable if a person has to advocate for himself because of an inaccurate PSR.
Sources on Statements of Reasons: