The United States Sentencing Guidelines place little emphasis on probability. Instead, the Guidelines recommend a sentence in each case based only on whether certain facts about the offender’s crime exceed a “threshold” level of likelihood. Guidelines sentences therefore fail to reflect the precise odds of each defendant’s wrongdoing, which makes them both inefficient and unfair. This model of decision-making is particularly problematic in drug sentencing, where judges often impose lengthy sentences based on drug quantity calculations that carry a high risk of error. To address these problems, district courts should exercise their discretion and policymakers should implement reforms that incorporate probability into punishment.
Jacob Schuman, Probability and Punishment: How to Improve Sentencing by Taking Account of Probability, 18 New Crim. L. Rev. 214 (2015).