Before the Supreme Court's Booker decision, federal courts were required to follow the federal sentencing guidelines. The guidelines required judges to enhance sentences to punish for crimes the judge believed were related to the crime of conviction, even though the additional crimes weren't proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Under the post-Booker regime, judges could impose any "reasonable" sentence after considering the guidelines and a number of other factors.
After Booker made the guidelines advisory, some federal appellate courts did their best to restore their mandatory nature by announcing that guideline-compliant sentences are presumptively reasonable while reversing sentences that weren't as harsh as the guidelines recommended. In today's NY Times, Linda Greenhouse spotlights two cases that will be argued before the Supreme Court today -- cases challenging the presumption that guideline sentences are reasonable.
The presumption “simply resurrects the system rejected in Booker,” Thomas N. Cochran, an assistant federal public defender in Greensboro, N.C., told the court in the brief he filed on behalf of Victor A. Rita Jr., the defendant in one of the two new cases.
[T]he reasonableness presumption for a guidelines sentence is ... important, for the reason that judges have continued to impose sentences within the guidelines most of the time — in 86 percent of all sentences, according to a study last year by the United States Sentencing Commission. Of the 12 regional appellate circuits, 7 have adopted the presumption.
Imposing extra punishment for crimes that haven't been proved beyond a reasonable doubt is offensive to our constitutional values. Convicting a defendant of a 5 gram crack delivery and sentencing for the kilogram that a judge believes the defendant delivered on other days circumvents the right to jury trial and allows the government to seek draconian sentences on the basis of dubious proof, often in the form of hearsay.
Sentencing Law and Policy has a series of useful posts -- collected here -- on the two cases that will be argued today.
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