Thursday, January 13, 2005

Back to the future, Supreme Court edition

In 1984 the Congress, fed up with squishy Federal judges giving ridiculously light sentences to career criminals, enacted the Sentencing Reform Act. Starting in 1987 (the Act's effective date), the judges had to enter judgments for sentencing criminals based on a complex grid matrix with allowable enhancements and downward departures based upon the defendant's prior bad conduct, use of firearm, amount of drugs, cooperation, size of defendant's role in crime, and other factors.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court shot down the Federal sentencing guidelines, which was expected after it overturned the Washington guidelines (patterned on the US Federal system) last June. Andy McCarthy notes:
Bottom line: The guidelines have lost the force of compulsory law, but they have not become irrelevant — at least not yet. For now, they will continue on, but they will literally be guidelines rather than binding commands. Sentencing judges will be made aware of them and obligated to consider them but not compelled to follow them. Judges will once again be relatively free to sentence at the top or bottom of the statute of conviction, regardless of what the guidelines prescribe. But that guidelines prescription, it is clearly hoped, will have considerable influence on judges by standing as a barometer of what is "reasonable."

More coverage (including links to virtually every major newspaper's coverage of the ruling) on Howard Bashman's How Appealing.

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