July 11, 1986
I am today approving H.R. 4801, but I do so with serious reservations. First, I am concerned by the extremely wide latitude allowed the United States Sentencing Commission in setting guidelines for offenses carrying a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment. The purpose of the Sentencing Reform Act, which I submitted to the Congress as part of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1983, was to establish a determinate sentencing system with narrow sentencing ranges for criminal offenses. The range of up to 6 months provided in this bill is far in excess of what we visualized in 1983 and, if implemented by the Sentencing Commission, would restore an undue measure of discretion to judges that could threaten to undermine the core purpose of the Sentencing Reform Act to establish fairness and certainty in sentencing by confining judicial discretion within a relatively narrow range. Second, the bill contains a technical flaw that may create an ambiguity with respect to the permissible range limits for life sentences. The word ``maximum'' in the next to last line should be ``minimum.'' This error should be corrected before the guidelines take effect. Third, I am concerned about this bill because it is only a small part of the much more comprehensive and much more important Senate bill, S. 1236, which would make dozens of needed technical and minor changes in the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, Public Law 98 - 473.
I therefore approve this bill with the understanding that the Sentencing Commission does not expect to utilize the full 6-month range for offenses carrying a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment and the expectation that the technical deficiencies will be corrected. The broad Senate-passed bill, S. 1236, which passed the Senate unanimously, unfortunately remains pending before the House Judiciary Committee. I hope the Congress will not abandon S. 1236, and I urge its prompt consideration by the House of Representatives.
Note: H.R. 4801, approved July 11, was assigned Public Law No. 99 - 363.