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Sentencing, Bureaucracy, and the Paradigm of Disillusion

By Judge John L. Kane

Editor’s Note: This article is a revised version of a speech given by Judge John L. Kane. The speech was presented in Denver, Colorado, on Oct. 26, 2017, as the keynote address to the 48th annual convention of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law. 

Only two percent of federal criminal cases are tried to a jury. Of the remaining 98 percent, over 91 percent are resolved by plea bargains.1 Much can and has been written regarding this state of affairs.2 But, for the purposes of this article, these statistics are significant because they highlight how the function of district court judges in criminal cases is often confined to sentencing defendants. In carrying out that duty, I repeatedly am reminded of two definitions that were suggested to me by a psychiatrist friend of mine. The first is for bureaucracy, which she defines as the performance of tasks without knowing or asking why. And the second is for the paradigm of disillusion, or the practice of reaching conclusions or making dia

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