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:
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:
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."
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.
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