United States Sentencing Commission
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United States of America
The United States Sentencing Commission is an independent agency of the judicial branch of the federal government of the United States. It is responsible for articulating the sentencing guidelines for the United States federal courts. The Commission promulgates the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which replaced the prior system of indeterminate sentencing that allowed trial judges to give sentences ranging from probation to the maximum statutory punishment for the offense. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
The commission was created by the Sentencing Reform Act provisions of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. The constitutionality of the commission was challenged as a congressional encroachment on the power of the executive but upheld by the Supreme Court in Mistretta v. United States, 488 U.S. 361 (1989).
Unlike many special-purpose "study" commissions within the executive branch, the U.S. Sentencing Commission was established by Congress as a permanent, independent agency within the judicial branch. The seven voting members on the Commission are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, and serve six-year terms. Commission members may be reappointed to one additional term, also with the advice and consent of the Senate. At least three of the commissioners must be federal judges, and no more than four may belong to the same political party. The United States Attorney General or his designee and the chair of the United States Parole Commission sit as ex officio, non-voting members of the Commission.
On Friday January 25, 2013 the activist legion Anonymous hacked the USSC website in an operation titled "Operation Last Resort". The first, unsuccessful attack, was launched early Friday morning, followed by a second successful attack around 9pm PST the same day. By 3am PST the site was down and dropped from the DNS Domain Name System, yet the IP address (188.8.131.52) still returned the defaced site's contents. Anonymous cited the recent death of hacktivist Aaron Swartz as a "line that has been crossed." The statement suggested murder for Swartz's, which many – including the family – believe was a result of overzealous prosecution by the Department of Justice and what the family deemed a "bullying" use of outdated computer crime laws.
It appears that via the U.S. government website, Anonymous had distributed encrypted government files and left a statement on the website that de-encryption keys would be publicly released (thus releasing the as-yet unknown information held on the stolen files) if the U.S. government did not comply with Anonymous' demands for legal reform. Anonymous has not specified exactly what files they obtained. The various files were named after Supreme Court judges.
According to the statement:
"Warhead – U S – D O J – L E A – 2013 . A E E 256 is primed and armed. It has been quietly distributed to numerous mirrors over the last few days and is available for download from this website now. We encourage all Anonymous to syndicate this file as widely as possible."
This appeared to be Anonymous sending a threatening message to whoever knows what might be on the encrypted files. Anonymous encouraged anyone and everyone to distribute the files, so it was not unknown who had the files or how many had been distributed. The files are useless without the encryption keys.
The website is currently up and running without issue.
After a visit to a federal prison in Oklahoma by President Barack H. Obama in July 2015, the Commission issued new sentencing guidelines in October which lowered sentences for many drug offenders. That the commission made the changes retroactive is significant to white house goals, many offenders now serving time in prison and in halfway houses would qualify for an early release. All have served substantial prison time and the change would mean they would be subject to further judicial review of up to 6,000 cases and for some 1000, ultimate deportation as they would be released to the custody of I.C.E. Newspaper reports put the numbers of eventual release at much higher totals. The sentencing panel estimated that roughly 46,000 of 100,000 drug offenders in federal lockup would qualify for early release. The 6,000 to be released during November is the first batch in that process, as reported by the Washington Post. Its change in guidelines represent a sea change in crime and punishment and could mean changes in state laws affecting drug sentencing. Mandatory minimum sentences are statutory, only Congress can reduce them. Lawmakers in the senate are currently pursuing a bi-partisan effort on a bill to do just that.
The following table lists commissioners as of December 2014.
|Member||Occupation||Date appointed||Term expiration|
|Patti B. Saris
|Chief Judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts||December 22, 2010||October 31, 2015†|
|Charles R. Breyer
|Senior Judge, United States District Court for the Northern District of California||June 6, 2013||October 31, 2015|
|Former White House Assistant Counsel||March 1, 2007||October 31, 2015|
|Rachel E. Barkow
|Professor, New York University School of Law||June 6, 2013||October 31, 2017|
|William H. Pryor, Jr.
|Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit||June 6, 2013||October 31, 2017|
|Isaac Fulwood, Jr.
(Ex officio) (non-voting)
|Chair, United States Parole Commission||——||——|
|Jonathan J. Wroblewski
(Ex officio) (non-voting) (Attorney General's designee)
|Director of the Office of Policy and Legislation,
Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice
† Date second term expires, after which the commissioner may not be reappointed.
- "An Overview of the United States Sentencing Commission" (PDF). United States Sentencing Commission. United States Sentencing Commission. Retrieved 9 August 2011.
- United States Sentencing Commission
- United States Sentencing Commission in the Federal Register
- Interviews with first four Commission Chairs
- From the Hill to the Court to the Commission (Interview with Commission Chair Patti Saris, The Third Branch Sept. 2011)
- Significant Dates and Decisions in the History of the Sentencing Guidelines
- Anonymous hacks US Sentencing Commission, distributes files
- Institutional racism