I am perplexed as to why an amendment that seeks to enforce the intent of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, which established sentencing guidelines, is so controversial to The Post ["House Without Mercy," editorial, April 4]. These guidelines state that sentences should be predictable, uniform and tough and that departures should be "rare occurrences." The guidelines further state that departures based on grounds that the Sentencing Commission has not endorsed should be "highly infrequent."

Unfortunately, the intent of the Sentencing Reform Act is not being carried out. Downward departures on grounds other than substantial assistance to the government have climbed steadily for several years. The rate of such departures in non-immigration cases climbed from 9.6 percent in fiscal 1996 to 14.7 percent in fiscal 2001. More disturbingly, downward departures in child pornography possession cases have ranged between 20 percent and 29 percent nationwide. Often, these departures are based on much-abused grounds, such as "aberrant behavior" and "family ties."

With the ratio of downward to upward departures at 33 to 1, there appears little chance that judges will exceed the sentencing guidelines. Given these facts, the editorial's fear-mongering is excessive. My constituency has legitimate fears that judges who increasingly deviate downward from sentencing guidelines enable felons to victimize innocent citizens repeat- edly.

This amendment would ensure greater consistency and adherence to the sentencing guidelines. It would not strip judges of any discretion beyond what was originally intended by the Sentencing Reform Act. It does instruct the Sentencing Commission to lay out specifically what areas may provide grounds for trial judges to exercise their discretion when reducing punishments.


U.S. Representative (R-Fla.)