Military Service and New Federal Sentencing

Last year the US Supreme Court overturned a Florida prisoner’s death sentence because George Porter’s jury wasn't told of his Korean War service, or details of his mental state after the war.

If Congress has no objections, on November 1, the US Sentencing Commission will allow a judge to consider military service at a federal sentencing.

Since the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines went into effect in the late 1980’s, an “offender’s characteristics” that might lessen a sentence were all thrown together: Military, civic, charitable, public service, and employment-related contributions. On November 1, 2010 military service will be a mitigating factor of its own.

Is this new law or a clarification? That story is yet to be told, and if clarifying could provide sentencing relief to veterans currently serving time in federal prison.

In the US Sentencing Commissions own words —

“ .... the amendment amends §5H1.11 (Military, Civic, Charitable, or Public Service; Employment-Related Contributions; Record of Prior Good Works) to draw a distinction between military service and the other circumstances covered by that policy statement. As amended, the policy statement provides that military service "may be relevant in determining whether a departure is warranted, if the military service, individually or in combination with other offender characteristics, is present to an unusual degree and distinguishes the case from the typical cases covered by the guidelines". The Commission determined that applying this departure standard to consideration of military service is appropriate because such service has been recognized as a traditional mitigating factor at sentencing. See, e.g., Porter v. McCollum, 130 S. Ct. 447, 455 (2009) ("Our Nation has a long tradition of according leniency to veterans in recognition of their service, especially for those who fought on the front lines . . . .").”

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