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Though in theory federal criminal law applies uniformly in all places, in practice federal charging, plea bargaining, and sentencing practices vary widely from place to place. Sentencing disparities are good when they reflect local knowledge about local crime problems and concerns. They are bad when they spring from bias, local lawyers' and judges' hostility to national policy choices or perhaps when they reflect disagreement with federal strategies. This Article critiques fast-track programs, which award huge discounts in immigration and drug cases along the southwest border, as bad variation that undermines the ideal of national uniformity. It then considers the wide local variations in sentencing cooperating defendants. Procedural and substantive policies within the Department of Justice and more specific sentencing guidelines can bring greater equality and consistency to these decisions.


criminal procedure, federal sentencing, sentencing guidelines, fast-track, structured sentencing, disparity, uniformity, equality

Publication Title

Stanford Law Review

Publication Citation

58 Stan. L. Rev. 137 (2005)