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Supreme Court Term Begins With Sentencing Guideline Cases

Bump and Update: Just received an e-mail from TChris, TalkLeft's sole contributing blogger to date, who is arguing one of the two sentencing guideline cases in the Supreme Court tomorrow. His portion of the argument is 30 minutes. He says he's ready. Good luck, TChris!

"The sentencing procedure used in this case violated [Booker's] constitutional rights because the judge inflicted punishment that the jury's verdict alone does not allow," says T. Christopher Kelly, a Madison, Wis., lawyer in his brief on behalf of Booker.

Background on his case is here. It was just three months ago that his case (Booker v. U.S.) was the first in the country in which a federal appeals court ruled the sentencing guidlines unconstitutional after the Supreme Court decision in Blakely. And now he goes before the 9 Supreme Court Justices on the first day of the new term. Very, very exciting.

Check out what Peter Goldberger, criminal appellate whiz (Ardmore, PA) and frequent commenter on TalkLeft had to say about TChris and his case in the comments here:

Let me be the first to say, "TChris rocks!" The brief is elegantly written, thoughtfully argued, and highly persuasive. Mr. Booker should be thanking his lucky stars that a lawyer as brilliant and dedicated as Chris happened to be appointed as his counsel. (Congrats also to Dean Strang, the federal court public defender for western Wisconsin, who serves as Chris's volunteer co-counsel.) TL readers should know that for what amounts to more than a month of full time work, the Supreme Court will pay Chris a few thousand dollars -- maybe the equivalent of $12/hr -- plus his expenses in traveling to DC for the oral argument on October 4. Taking a historic case like this is a public service, not a way to make a living. TChris, best of luck at argument. Maybe I'll see you in Washington.

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Original Post 10/2/04, 11:00 a.m.

The Supreme Court begins its fall term Monday. Several important criminal issues will be heard early, including cases on sentencing guidelines, drug policy and the death penalty. The ACLU provides this guide.

TChris, TalkLeft's contributing blogger, is counsel of record on Booker v. U.S., one of two sentencing guidelines cases up for hearing Monday. Having a case in the Supreme Court is a big deal. Big enough to keep him on a blogging respite since July. Good luck, TChris!

On the very first Monday, the Court will plunge into a controversy that has embroiled the federal judiciary since last Term's decision in Blakely v. Washington, which held that the constitutional right to a jury trial prohibits a judge from imposing a sentence longer than the law allows based on the facts either found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt after a trial or admitted by the defendant as part of a guilty plea. Applying that principle, the Court struck down a provision of a Washington State law that subjected a defendant to a substantially increased sentence based on a judge's factual findings during the sentencing process.

The issue in United States v. Booker (04-104) and United States v. Fanfan (04-105), is whether the federal sentencing guidelines are similarly invalid because the guideline score that is used to determine a defendant's sentence often rests on facts that are never presented to the jury -- such as the actual quantity of drugs involved in a particular transaction. Instead, those critical findings are made by a judge based on a preponderance of the evidence at a post-conviction hearing where reasonable doubt is no longer the standard.

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