LAW 534

Sentencing Law and Policy

Criminal Justice, Public Interest Law

Given that over 95% of felony cases are resolved by plea bargaining, sentencing is often the most important aspect of a criminal case. The rise of mandatory and “get tough” sentencing laws during the 1990s has meant that the United States is now the nation with the largest prison population in the world. Yet sentencing is also an area of law that has undergone significant change, shaped by landmark Supreme Court cases, legislative reform, and prosecutorial discretion.

This seminar will examine the history, purpose, law, and administration of criminal sentencing in America. Using the federal system as the primary example, students will gain an appreciation of the complex set of rules, guidelines, legal doctrine, and practices that govern the allocation of punishment in America. Throughout the seminar we will seek to understand the balance of power in sentencing practice between various actors, including legislators, prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges, victims, and probation officers. We will also explore a range of special sentencing topics, including racial, ethnic, and national origin disparities in sentencing and recent “second chance” initiatives that reevaluate long-term sentences. 
Students will write a 20- to 25-page SAW eligible research paper on a topic to be selected in consultation with the instructor. In addition, students will critique the papers written by their classmates. 

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