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Law Symposium to Focus on Mandatory Minimum Sentences

February 11, 2010–During his time on the bench, Paul Cassell, a professor of law at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law and former federal judge, wrote opinions criticizing the rigidity of imposing mandatory minimum sentences, regardless of whether a defendant’s circumstances called for an adjustment in his or her sentence.

On Thursday, Feb. 18, Cassell and a group of distinguished panelists will host a symposium titled “Judicial Discretion: A Look Back and Look Forward Five Years After Booker.” The symposium will run from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (MST) in the College’s Sutherland Moot Courtroom. It is free and open to the public.

“The symposium is designed to bring together leading commentators on the federal sentencing system, who will analyze the proper role of judicial discretion in criminal sentencing,” notes Cassell. “The panelists will assess the impact of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in United States v. Booker on judicial discretion and evaluate mandatory minimum sentencing schemes currently in place.”

The Booker decision transformed the guidelines from a binding set of directives to federal judges into an advisory set of recommendations. In light of the five years since Booker, Cassell believes it is now possible to assess the effects of that decision and to ask whether the greater freedom given to judges has proven to be a success or a failure. He says that the symposium will examine questions including whether the discretion given to judges has allowed them to ensure that the punishment they impose fits the crime and the offender; and conversely, whether it has given judges too much room to indulge idiosyncratic personal preferences.

In addition to Cassell, panelists include William K. Sessions III, chief district court judge for the District of Vermont and chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission; Benjamin McMurray, adjunct professor of law at the S.J. Quinney College and also representing the Utah Federal Defender’s Office in Salt Lake City; Douglas Berman, William B. Saxbe designated professor of law at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law; Steven L. Chanenson, professor, Villanova University School of Law; Jonathan Wroblewski, director of the Office of Policy and Legislation, Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice; and Erik Luna, professor of law, Washington and Lee School of Law.

The symposium is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is requested. Contact Miriam Lovin: or 801-581-7356. The event can also be viewed live online at Free parking is available at Rice-Eccles Stadium and no permit is required.