US judges scrutinised over lenient sentencing

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The Independent US

The United States Attorney General, John Ashcroft, has ordered prosecuting officials across America to collate and gather information on federal judges who impose sentences that are lighter than guidelines recommend.

In what has been interpreted as an attack on judicial independence, Mr Ashcroft has told US attorneys to be aggressive in gathering such information. "The purpose of this is to make sure that all our US attorneys understand that we intend to apply US law evenly across all jurisdictions," said Mark Carallo, a department spokesman.

Mr Ashcroft amended guidelines for federal prosecutors who previously only had to report sentences they objected to and wanted to appeal. They now have to report all "downward departure" decisions.

Senator Edward Kennedy said prosecutors were being forced to "participate in the establishment of a blacklist of judges". The retired judge John Martin told The Washington Post: "For a judge to be deprived of the ability to consider all the factors ... is completely at odds with the sentencing philosophy."