As a frequent critic of the federal sentencing guidelines (see, e.g., my post from Monday), my readers–yeah, both of them–often assume that I dislike sentencing guidelines in general. To the contrary, I think that sentencing guidelines remain a good idea and have worked quite well in many states (not in Wisconsin, unfortunately, but I will leave that post for another day). The problem with the federal sentencing system is not that it has guidelines, but that it has bad guidelines.
Kicking off a terrific speaker series at Marquette this semester, Dan Markel of Florida State and PrawfsBlawg fame is with us today to present his paper How Should Punitive Damages Work?. This is the second part of a multi-article series in which Dan is developing a comprehensive reform proposal for punitive damages law. Dan’s basic premise is that punitive damages should be reconceptualized around principles of retributive justice. To the extent that we want punitive damages to do other things (e.g., compensate victims for dignitary harms), Dan urges that we give those forms of damages different labels and treat them in a procedurally distinct manner from retributive damages. Notably, he would give retributive damages awards to the state, not private plaintiffs; plaintiffs would get merely a small finder’s fee ($10,000) and attorneys’ fees.
The Seventh Circuit has an interesting new sentencing decision, United States v. Carter, which nicely illustrates the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Gall v. United States. Robert Carter, the husband of defendant Virginia Carter, embezzled money from his insurance business over several years. There is no indication that Virgina Carter participated in the embezzlement, but she likely had some knowledge of what was going on. Eventually, for reasons that are unclear, she sought a divorce. Following the advice of her lawyer, who did not know that much of the family income was illegal, Carter attempted to take control of the couple’s liquid assets by transferring them into her own individual bank accounts. Normally, this would be a sound tactical move in a divorce setting, but, by virtue of the criminal origin of the assets, Carter thereby became a money launderer. Following conviction, she faced a recommended sentence of 87-108 months in prison under the federal sentencing guidelines.