(Re)Views from the Bench: A Judicial Perspective on Second-Look Sentencing in the Federal System

Published date01 October 2021
Date01 October 2021
Chief Judge Colleen McMahon*
On October 21, 2020, Chief Judge Colleen McMahon delivered the keynote
address for the third day of the National Association of Criminal Defense
Lawyers (“NACDL”) and the American Criminal Law Review’s (“ACLR”) 2020
Presidential Summit and Symposium, Prison Brake: Rethinking the Sentencing
Status Quo. Her Remarks—which focused on offender resentencing since the pas-
sage of the First Step Act and in the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic—
have been reproduced here in their entirety. They have been lightly edited to
include some explanatory footnotes and citations to specif‌ic cases and statutes
mentioned. NACDL and ACLR thank Chief Judge McMahon for her willingness
to participate in the program, and for her insightful comments.
Thank you, Norm.
It is a pleasure to be with you today, although I do wish it
could be in person rather than virtual. But your organizers have put together a fas-
cinating program on a very important topic, and I am delighted that I have been
asked to weigh in with some random thoughts about current issues in sentencing.
It is a timely request. Federal judges have spent a lot of time during the last year
and a half, and especially during the last six months, dealing with a novel aspect of
sentencing law—novel to us, at least. We f‌ind ourselves being asked to modify sen-
tences that we imposed years ago. The original impetus was, of course, the passage
of the First Step Act;
but the unexpected addition of the pandemic to the mix has
really ratcheted up the amount of time we are spending in what effectively amounts
to “resentencing.” You ended the day yesterday with presentations on the First
Step Act and on “second looks” from the academic and practitioner points of view.
I want to pick up where your presenters left off.
Taking a second look at sentences is not something federal judges are accus-
tomed to doing. The law, as you know, has long forbidden us from second
* The Hon. Colleen McMahon is Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New
York. © 2021, Colleen McMahon.
1. Norman Reimer, Executive Director of NACDL.
2. Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person (“First Step”) Act,
Pub. L. No. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194 (2018) (codif‌ied in scattered sections of 18 and 34 U.S.C.).

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