Judges Are Not Bound by Sentencing Rules

Judges Are Not Bound by Sentencing Rules
Posted by CN Staff on January 12, 2005 at 19:29:45 PT
By Linda Greenhouse
Source: New York Times
Washington -- The Supreme Court transformed federal criminal sentencing today by restoring to judges much of the discretion that Congress took away 21 years ago when it put sentencing guidelines in place and told judges to follow them.The guidelines, intended to make sentences more uniform, should be treated as merely advisory in order to cure a constitutional deficiency in the system, the court held in an unusual two-part decision produced by two coalitions of justices.
In the first part, five justices declared that the current guidelines system violated defendants' rights to trial by jury by giving judges the power to make factual findings that increased sentences beyond the maximum that the jury's findings alone would support. That portion of the opinion had been widely anticipated, growing directly out of a similar conclusion the same five justices - John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia, David H. Souter, Clarence Thomas, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg - reached last June in invalidating the sentencing guidelines system in the state of Washington.The real question hanging over the case, which the court granted on an expedited basis over the summer and heard in October on the opening day of its new term, was how the justices would solve the problem.So it was the second part of the decision - the remedy - that was the surprise and that, going forward, will shape the continuing debate over sentencing policy. With Justice Ginsburg joining the four justices who dissented from the first part - Stephen G. Breyer, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony M. Kennedy, and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist - a separate coalition said the problem could be fixed if the guidelines were discretionary rather than mandatory.Judges "must consult" the guidelines and "take them into account," Justice Breyer said for the majority in this portion of the decision. But at the end of the day the guidelines will be advisory only, with sentences to be reviewed on appeal for "reasonableness."Justice Breyer's solution to the problem was not intuitively obvious - in fact, no party in the case had suggested it - and at its heart lay a paradox. In a series of intensely disputed rulings beginning with Apprendi v. New Jersey in 2000, the court has held that under the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury, judges cannot impose sentences beyond the "prescribed statutory maximum" unless the facts supporting such an increase were found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The constitutional cloud over federal criminal sentencing therefore derived from the mandatory nature of the guidelines, which instruct judges to consider various facts, like the defendant's leadership role in a criminal enterprise, and to increase sentences accordingly beyond the usual range. But all nine justices agreed that the defendant's Sixth Amendment right is not implicated by a system in which judges simply use their discretion, advised by guidelines but not bound by them. Hence the paradox: the Sixth Amendment's protection vanishes as judges gain more power.The dispute on the court was not over that proposition, but rather over which solution to the Sixth Amendment problem was more consistent with what Congress would have intended when it passed the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 had it known of the constitutional infirmity.Justice Stevens, with Justices Souter, Scalia and Thomas, said in effect that the last thing Congress would have done would be to give judges back the power that the guidelines intended to constrain. Rather, they said, the solution should be to make indictments more specific and require the jury to rule on any factor that would increase a sentence beyond the ordinary range. Justice Stevens said it was "clear that the court's creative remedy is an exercise of legislative, rather than judicial, power" that "violates the tradition of judicial restraint."Congress may have the last word, but in the meantime, sentencing law will be largely in the hands of the federal appeals courts, which will now be empowered to review sentences for their "reasonableness." Response today was generally muted, in recognition that it will take time to assess how the new system will work.Complete Title: Supreme Court Rules Judges Are Not Bound by Sentencing RulesText: The Ruling: Source: New York Times (NY)Author: Linda GreenhousePublished: January 12, 2005Copyright: 2005 The New York Times Company Contact: letters Website: Articles:Federal Sentencing Guidelines Not Mandatory Orders Changes in Sentencing Ruling May Confuse
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Comment #5 posted by mayan on January 13, 2005 at 04:17:29 PT
Reefer Madness
Thanks for that link, EJ!From EJ's "Reefer Madness" link..."Reefer Madness" was a low-budget propaganda film written by a religious group to broadcast the dangers of marijuana. It was relegated to the cinema waste heap for almost 40 years until 1972, when Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws discovered it in the Library of Congress archives and paid $297 for a print. He then screened it in New York as a benefit for the advocacy group, unwittingly launching it on the road to cult-film history.That film is now recognized as ridiculous propaganda which was used to ban the cannabis plant. The cannabis laws are now also viewed as ridiculous. When will the "madness" end?
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Comment #4 posted by FoM on January 12, 2005 at 20:06:11 PT
Related Article from The New York Times
Supreme Court Transforms Use of Sentence Guidelines:
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Comment #3 posted by Taylor121 on January 12, 2005 at 20:01:08 PT
Support Long Lasting Reform- Send a Message !
The recent Supreme Court decision on federal-sentencing guidelines opens the door for Congress to address the issue of harsh federal drug sentences. Tell your Members of Congress to support meaningful, compassionate and long-lasting sentencing reform.
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Comment #2 posted by afterburner on January 12, 2005 at 19:58:55 PT
Reefer Madness, rest in peace.
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Comment #1 posted by E_Johnson on January 12, 2005 at 19:34:40 PT
Star of Reefer Madness dies in LA
Thelma White, rest in peace.,0,1846629.story?coll=la-home-obituaries
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