George F. Hildebrandt
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July 2015 Archives

Federal Sentencing Laws May Soon Be Changing

Being investigated, prosecuted, and convicted by a federal court is never a pleasant experience. The long and drawn-out process can wear a person down without ever having a prison sentence imposed on them. But the real anguish comes at sentencing, when a convicted federal defendant has their fate determined. Although many would like to believe otherwise, a sentence is not completely up to a federal judicial officer. Mandatory minimum sentences required by many federal laws play a crucial role in deciding how long a person will be spending behind bars or under a supervised release program. Some of the mandatory sentences have been called particularly harsh and even cruel, but a change may be on the horizon.

Justice Department Seeks to Prevent Criminal Record Expungement

The purported purpose of the criminal justice system and in particular, the Department of Justice, is to transform those who enter the system from convicted criminals to functioning members of society. The sad truth is that a federal prison or a stint on federal probation may only be the beginning of a lifelong sentence of difficulties for those convicted of a crime that can include increased roadblocks when attempting to find employment or even get a higher education.

Court Issues Limited Decision on the Legality of NSA's PRISM Program

Several years ago, Edward Snowden made national news when he declared that the United States population was under surveillance by the NSA. While the legality of that revelation has generated no small amount of controversy itself, the programs he brought to light also have important implications for the field of criminal law and the Fourth Amendment rights of accused citizens.

Time for Change in Bail Calculations?

The Honorable Jonathan Lippman, the chief judge of New York State, focused a portion of his annual State of the Judiciary Address to the practice of holding people facing, but not yet convicted of charges in jail for long periods of time, a practice he asserted "strips our justice system of its credibility and distorts its operation." Judge Lippman's comments urged legislative reform in pretrial detention practices to increase fairness and reduce costs. Judge Lippman went so far as to submit legislation that would have shifted the legal presumption of detention to one against jail, with the burden being on the prosecution to demonstrate the defendant posed either a danger to the community or was unlikely to appear for subsequent hearings. However, this legislation has yet to gain any momentum.

"Vague" Portion of Armed Career Criminal Act Struck Down

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court held that the "residual phrase" of the Armed Career Criminal Act, which provides a five-year increase in imprisonment for crimes involving conduct that presents a serious risk of physical injury, is unconstitutional. This decision was announced in the case of Johnson v. United States.

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