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NEWS: Supreme Court: Sentencing System Wrongly Applied

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posted on Jan, 12 2005 @ 06:47 PM
A sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court threw the nation's federal sentencing system into disarray, bu ruling that the way judges are sentencing as many as 60,000 defendants a year is unconstitutional. In the 5-4 ruling, they voiced the opinion that judges had been incorrectly adding time to prison stays. While the court did not eliminate the 20 year old guideline system, it instead ruled that they should be consulted on an advisory basis
WASHINGTON - A splintered Supreme Court threw the nation's federal sentencing system into turmoil Wednesday, ruling that the way judges have been sentencing some 60,000 defendants a year is unconstitutional.

In ordering changes, the court found 5-4 that judges have been improperly adding time to some criminals' prison stays.

The high court stopped short of scrapping the nearly two-decade-old guideline system, intended to make sure sentences do not vary widely from courtroom to courtroom.

Instead, the court said in the second half of a two-part ruling that judges should consult the guidelines in determining reasonable sentences — but only on an advisory basis.

Please visit the link provided for the complete story.

I tend to disagree with this ruling. As the article points out, we will now have a widely varied sentencing. That mean that judges that give overly harsh sentences and were keep in check can now run amuk. The same goes for judges that are soft on sentencing. Punishment should be fairly applied across the system and the guidelines help with this.

posted on Jan, 12 2005 @ 07:43 PM
But Fred how can this be bad?

It said that judges has sentencing, more than they should.

For my interpretation it looks like the sentencing will follow guide lines.

I find disturbing when a judge feels because of political or religious convictions or perhaps because it just feels like it, that he or she should add more sentence to the defendants.

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 their convictions.

posted on Jan, 12 2005 @ 09:37 PM
On another note, in my short experience I've come to realize that generalizations are mostly worthless (ironic eh?). Cases need to be taken on a case by case basis within a guideline. There should be no set minimum or any set maximum because that will always
deprive justice to one party or another.

posted on Jan, 12 2005 @ 10:07 PM
My first impression of the ruling was positive - but as I've thought about it I'm not so sure.

This gives judges a lot of latitude in determining sentencing using their own judgment (see bias, prejudice, etc) without having to back it up with individual facts and circumstances. While this may result in shorter sentences it could just as easily be longer ones.

I guess we'll have to wait and see what the sentencing statistics look like in a few years with respect to wealth or race or status before we know for sure.

Does anyone know if this ruling will affect mandatory minimums or are they still in place?


posted on Jan, 12 2005 @ 10:21 PM

Originally posted by marg6043
But Fred how can this be bad?

Bleys also hit on the part that I commented on: It goes both ways. A defendant that gets a soft judge will get a short term, a harsh one a longer term. The guidelines evens things out a bit. Its kind of like the Olympics dropping the high and low score. It keeps the extreems in check.

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