Chief Judge Patti Saris on the economic fraud guideline at Criminal Law conference

Chief Judge Patti Saris of the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts, delivered the closing keynote for the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law’s seventh annual conference, “Drawing the Line Between Civil and Criminal Punishment: Regulatory and Criminal Offenses.”

Chief Judge Patti Saris

Since 2010, Saris has chaired the US Sentencing Commission, on which the center’s faculty director Rachel Barkow, Segal Family Professor of Regulatory Law and Policy, also serves. The commission provides federal courts with advisory sentencing guidelines to ensure fairer and more consistent sentences for federal crimes across the country. In her keynote, she detailed how the commission investigated and revised the economic fraud guideline in response to criticisms that it was “fundamentally broken.”

Ultimately, the commissioners agreed that while the guideline was not broken, per se, they would amend it to place greater emphasis on the “quality of harm” done, not just the number of victims; the offender’s intent to do harm; and whether the offender had been a minimal or minor participant. This would help avoid over-punishing low-level players in complex schemes.

Saris framed this outcome as a triumph for the commission’s design. “We believe that our feedback loop worked as intended here, where stakeholders identify real problems, and the commission researches, analyzes, and addresses them.”

Earlier in the day, Leslie Caldwell, assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division of the US Department of Justice, presented another facet of managing punishment during the lunchtime keynote, during which she discussed criminal law enforcement in cases that may also involve regulatory enforcement.

The conference marked the center’s first major event since Deborah Gramiccioni became executive director in February. Prior to coming to NYU School of Law, she worked in Governor Chris Christie’s administration as the deputy chief of staff for policy as well as cabinet liaison and director of the Authorities Unit; in December 2013, she became deputy executive director at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.

Posted April 17, 2015