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Problems Challenging Sentencing Disparities

problems challenging sentencing disparities

People agree that fairness in our system of criminal justice requires that everyone gets treated equally. However our justice system routinely fails to live up this aspiration, and the defendants have very little means to challenge it.


The courts have said in United States v. Granados, 962 F.2d 767, 774 (8th Cir. 1992) that “A defendant cannot rely upon his co-defendant’s sentence as a yardstick for his own ….” Also there is generally no requirement that the State even give a reason for why they give codefendants different sentences.

I once represented a juvenile where the codefendant case was filed as a juvenile (In juvenile court a defendant can not be sentenced prison), and my client was filed as an adult. While the codefendant was facing no prison, but was just sentence to a program which generally last not much more then a year, the codefendant was facing 10 years to life unless the judge agreed to give him youthful offender, in which case he would be facing 6 years. When I argued that if the codefendant received juvenile sanctions my client should at a minimum receive youthful offender, the government replied for some reason they filed the codefendant in juvenile court, and the defendant in adult court, and the government is objecting to youthful offender. The judge refused to offer the defendant youthful offender. There was a significant sentencing disparity between the two defendants without any reason as to why?


It has been difficult to challenge the racial disparity in sentencing. Many studies have shown that certain races receive harsher sentences then others. Even when charged with similar crimes, and have similar criminal history. However this has become extremely difficult to challenge, as the United States Supreme Court has ruled that “a defendant claiming an equal protection violation must prove both a discriminatory purpose and effect; he or she must present evidence specific to his own case, instead of relying on statistical evidence of disparities.” See Delancy v. State of Florida 4D17-43 citation omitted (Citing McClesky v. Kemp 481 U.S. 279 (1987). This means that a court can not consider the most compelling piece of evidence of discriminatory sentences among race, namely the fact that they keep on doing it.


In conclusion while most courts believe that everyone should be treated the same under the law, whatever right we have to be treated equally at sentencing is basically unenforceable. As a result the courts have watched and affirmed sentences highly unequal to others in the same situation.