Booker and Fan Fan Decisions In on Sentencing Guidelines

The Supreme Court ruled today in the Booker and Fan Fan cases and the validity of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. [scroll down for links to opinions] In Booker (the case in which the defendant is represented by TalkLeft's contributing blogger TChris, who also argued the case before the High Court), the Court ruled against the Government and in favor of TChris's client. Congratulations, TChris.

Justice Stevens opinion addresses the first question on appeal, whether Blakely should be affirmed, and the Court agrees it should. Justice Breyer answers the second question as to whether the Guidelines are constitutional. Essentially, they aren't, but the invalid parts can be excised and the remainder can stay as advisory but not mandatory.

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that federal judges have been improperly adding time to criminals' sentences, a decision that puts in doubt longtime sentencing rules. The court, on a 5-4 vote, said that its ruling last June that juries - not judges - should consider factors that can add years to defendants' prison sentences applies as well to the 17-year-old federal guideline system.

The justices refused to backtrack from a 5-4 decision that struck down a state sentencing system because it gave judges too much leeway in sentencing. But the high court stopped short of striking down the federal system.

So what are the implications for everyone else? Justice Breyer in his opinion said the Guidelines are not mandatory, but Courts must consider them when sentencing. I'll add the link to the opinions as soon as they are in, but here's the gist of the rulings from Scotus Blog:

The Supreme Court ruled today that the federal Sentencing Guidelines must satisfy the standards of the Sixth Amendment as applied in the Court's ruling in Blakely v. Washington. Justice Stevens wrote an opinion on that point, and Justice Breyer wrote a separate opinion saying that the Guidelines can no longer be mandatory, but can continue to operate "in a manner consistent with congressional intent."

Justice Breyer's opinion declares, in key parts:

"The District Courts, while not bound to apply the Guidelines, must consult those Guidelines and take them into account when sentencing....The courts of appeals review sentencing decisions for unreasonableness. These features of the remaining system, while not the system Congress enacted, nevertheless continue to move sentencing in Congress' preferred direction, helping to avoid excessive sentencing disparities while maintaining flexibility sufficient to individualize sentences where necessary.

"...Ours, of course, is not the last word: The ball now lies in Congress' court. The National Legislature is equipped to devise and install, long-term, the sentencing system, compatible with the Constitution, that Congress judges best for the federal system of justice."

There are six written opinions in the cases. Here is Justice Stevens' opinion, and here is Justice Breyer's opinion . Also, here is the link to a partial dissent by Justice Scalia, here is the link to Justice Thomas' partial dissent, here is the link to Justice Breyers' partial dissent, and here is the link to Justice Stevens' partial dissent

. Links courtesy of Sentencing Law and Policy, whose author, Law Prof Doug Berman, writes that the gist of the opinion is the following, taken from Justice Stevens' opinion:

We hold that both courts correctly concluded that the Sixth Amendment as construed in Blakely does apply to the Sentencing Guidelines. In a separate opinion authored by JUSTICE BREYER, the Court concludes that in light of this holding, two provisions of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (SRA) that have the effect of making the Guidelines mandatory must be invalidated in order to allow the statute to operate in a manner consistent with congressional intent.

< Lynne Stewart Trial:Michael Tigar's Closing | Wading Through the Booker and FanFan Decisions >
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    congrats, tchris! i am still pushing my non-lawyer mind through the material to understand the implications, but i wanted to congratulate you on the win.

    congratulations!!!!! this is extraordinary. i was clerking when the apprendi decision came down, and spent the next two years trying to make sense of it, but this is just great. i think. look forward to reading the opinion. z

    Re: Booker and Fan Fan Decisions In on Sentencing (none / 0) (#3)
    by roger on Wed Jan 12, 2005 at 09:12:30 AM EST
    Congrats TChris! Ive got a jury out right now, but I am looking forward to reading the opinion(s)

    I'm a little shocked that Scalia (and Thomas) dissented. Both of them are generally in favor of more power for juries and less power for judges. I guess I'll have to wait and read their dissents, but if anyone has any guesses as to why they dissented, I'm interested.

    Scalia and Thomas joined Stevens' opinion but dissented from Breyer's. Everybody dissented except Ginsburg. Everybody also joined at least part of a majority opinion.

    So it was just a partial dissent: still in favor of getting rid of the sentencing guidelines but for different reasons? I guess that makes sense, as his reasons will probably be that a fully informed jury is the basis of this nation and should be in charge at all times - sounds innocuous unless you look deep into it, but that's for another time.

    Re: Booker and Fan Fan Decisions In on Sentencing (none / 0) (#7)
    by Che's Lounge on Wed Jan 12, 2005 at 10:35:18 AM EST
    Congratulations T. Chris. To succeed in convincing the SCOTUS to agree with your arguement. Quite an accomplishment, I'd say.

    TChris is in trial in Northern Wisconsin. I'm sure knows about the decision and will comment soon. In the meantime, this is a great place to leave your congrats and thoughts on the case.

    The dissents by Scalia etc. was from Breyer's decision that made the victory somewhat limited.

    Re: Booker and Fan Fan Decisions In on Sentencing (none / 0) (#10)
    by Sailor on Wed Jan 12, 2005 at 11:01:04 AM EST
    Congratulations TChris! This must have been a huge battle that you never thought you'd see the end of.

    Congratulations, T. Chris. Well done. Here's hoping the Congress behaves and doesn't start fiddling with wording to get the odious things up and running again.

    Congrats TChris on a remarkable win!

    I am a daughter of a late WWII Veteran and I am hopeful that this ruling will bring justice back to this country and allow for more reasonable sentencing guidelines that are more appropriate, considering the human life span. The judicial system in America is so seriously flawed. I am hopeful that this change will only be the beginning of correcting America's corrupt judicial system. Far too many judges abuse their power of authority, and they too need to be regulated. I trust that my brother, Bert Reghetti, can benefit from this decision. Thank you Blakely, Booker, and FanFan, for without your devotion and dedication, many would still have to suffer. "We the People." Respectfully, Dr. Gina Reghetti, D.O. Osteopathic Family Physician & Surgeon

    What a victory TChris! I have a sentencing next week where the guy was looking at a mandatory minimum of 10 based on the amount of meth he sold. But the case was shakey so we were allowed to plead to a telephone count. Tele count carries maximum 48 months. His guidelines (if they still exist) are much much higher. There is a case in the 11th Circuit which says that when the guidelines are higher than the maximum statutory sentence you compute any downward departures, NOT from the guideline sentence but from the statutory maximum of 4 years. Now Messrs. Booker and Fanfan make it possible for this District Court judge to follow Rodriguez (11 th Cir.) as the guidelines are ADVISORY but not MANDATORY. Yeah!