Vanderbilt Law Review

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Prior to the enactment of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in 1987, sentencing courts routinely considered an offender's background and personal characteristics when imposing a sentence.' Today, how- ever, judges strain to exercise their discretion in a sentencing structure that focuses primarily on the offense committed and discourages consideration of a defendant's personal history. Although judicial departures from the formal sentencing structure are permissible in certain circumstances, discretionary departures based on a defendant's background and personal characteristics consistently have met opposition by the United States Sentencing Commission. This opposition has led to the Commission's adoption of more restrictive policies governing the relevance of offender characteristics in federal sentencing. Despite these policies, however, district and circuit judges continue to find ways to circumvent the guidelines in cases warranting special consideration.' On October 6, 1992, the Ninth Circuit in United States v. Roe' vacated and remanded a district court ruling that refused to grant a downward departure from the sentencing guidelines to a defendant with a shocking history of family violence-an offender characteristic that the Commission has not addressed specifically. Although other circuits have held that childhood abuse of the defendant may be relevant in certain circumstances, the Ninth Circuit in Roe was the first to recommend a departure based solely on a finding of extraordinary abuse.

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