posted on Jan, 12 2005 @ 09:31 PM
The Yahoo! story is a bit misleading--I think that the NY Times covered it a bit better (see link below.)
This ruling is like curing a bad eye infection with a sharp stick.
The justices were correct in identifying that these sentencing guidelines, while intending to make sentences more uniform, violated the Sixth
Amendment. Defendents are essentially deprived of a jury trial as judges have access to facts outside the confines of the trial and can increase the
sentence to a defined maximum that is beyond what the jury's findings alone would support.
This is essentially unconstitutional and these guidelines should be invalidated. However, the alternative is also problematic as it gives judges
discretion to change the sentences applied by the jury, resulting in inconsistent sentencing from case to case. The guidelines were put in place
because of abuse by the judiciary system and also because some judges were thought to be too "soft" on violent criminals.
Because of this, the guidelines weren't completely scrapped and judges are instructed to consult them before using discretion.
Either situation seems to discount the defendents constitutional right to a jury trial--in either case information that was not heard in the trial can
be taken into account as the judge can override the jury sentence.
Although there isn't a real solution in sight, there is a hint of good news. The Supreme Court realizes that the power needs to be put back into the
hands of the juries --theoretically by issuing more specific indictments and allowing juries to rule on information that would increase sentence
length, but until this can be sorted out (which can take years) the courts are relying on appeals to sort out sentencing problems--what about
defendents that can't afford to appeal and are stuck with the ruling of an insane judge?
I am sure that this issue will come up again and again as the hundreds of thousands of convicts sentenced under these guidelines start challenging