Statement on Signing the Sentencing Act of 1987

 

December 7, 1987

 

I am pleased to sign S. 1822, the Sentencing Act of 1987. The bill amends the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, the goals of which are to reduce unwarranted sentencing disparity and to bring about certainty and fairness in sentencing. Many of the bill's provisions are aimed at improving the implementation of the act and easing the transition to the new sentencing reform system.

 

Section 2 of S. 1822 provides that the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 applies only to offenses committed after it took effect on November 1, 1987. The purpose of this provision is to preclude potential litigation regarding the applicability of the Sentencing Reform Act to offenses that occurred before the act's effective date of November 1, 1987. Consistent with past law on the subject, I understand section 2 of S. 1822 to mean that the Sentencing Reform Act applies to offenses completed after it took effect. Offenses begun prior to, but not completed until on or after November 1, 1987, will be subject to the Sentencing Reform Act.

 

Moreover, I do not understand section 26 of S. 1822, which makes S. 1822 applicable to offenses committed after its enactment, to affect the more specific language of section 2. Therefore, I understand that the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 applies to offenses completed after it took effect on November 1, 1987, and that section 26 does not have the effect of delaying implementation of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984.

 

The bill modifies, in section 3, the standard for imposing a sentence that departs from the applicable sentencing guidelines. The Sentencing Reform Act as originally enacted requires the court to impose a sentence within the applicable guideline range ``unless the court finds that an aggravating or mitigating circumstance exists that was not adequately taken into consideration by the Sentencing Commission in formulating the guidelines and that should result in a sentence different from that described.'' The amendment authorizes the court to depart from the guidelines if there exists such a circumstance ``of a kind or to a degree'' not adequately taken into consideration by the Commission. I understand this amendment merely to clarify the intent behind the past standard for sentencing outside the applicable sentencing guidelines and not to expand the extremely limited basis for such sentencing. Any other construction would undermine the guidelines and the purpose of the underlying statute of reducing unwarranted sentencing disparity. A narrow reading of the departure standard is vital to the proper implementation of the Sentencing Reform Act.

 

Note: S. 1822, approved December 7, was assigned Public Law No. 100 - 182.