Monday, August 02, 2004

News from the 4th Circuit

Most of today's Blakely talk will focus on the Supreme Court, but don't forget that the 4th Circuit heard oral argument today on a Blakely matter.

The facts of the case are very interesting. Mohamad Hammoud was convicted of cigarette smuggling and his sentence was enhanced for, among other things, providing financial support to Hezbollah. Under the guidelines his sentence came out to be 155 years. Hammoud's lawyers argued that Blakely invalidates a significant portion of Hammoud's sentence because the terrorism enhancement was not considered by the jury. Hammoud's lawyers argued that his sentence, after taking Blakely into consideration, should be under 5 years.

A report from the daily press indicates that Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III expressed a preference to wait on a Supreme Court decision before deciding Hammoud's case. "If we start going down this road ahead of the Supreme Court we'll be in a total state of confusion," Wilkinson said.

Update: A reader has written in to say that after a few hours after hearing en banc argument in USA v. Hammoud, the 4th Cir. will not overturn the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The reader reports that the court has issued an order to that effect, with opinions to follow later. The court is also expected to instruct district courts to issue "alternative" sentences. Dissent(s) are expected.

Another reader writes in to confirm that the 4th Circuit has upheld the guidelines. On the alternate sentencing issue, the court's order reads as follows:

"[D]istrict courts within the Fourth Circuit are hereby instructed to continue sentencing defendants in accordance with the guidelines, as was the practice before Blakely. In the interest of judicial economy, however, and pending a definitive ruling by the Supreme Court, we recommend that district courts within the Fourth Circuit also announce, at the time of sentencing, a sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C.A 3553(a), treating the guidelines as advisory only."

The first circuit heard arguments today in two cases with Blakely implications. Spectators got the feeling that the panel was not too interested. Speculation is that they may be more than happy to wait until the Supremes act on this on. The cases were:
00-2397 United States v. Ronald A.X. Stokes.
04-1099 United States v. Stephen Savarese.
Thanks, RJ.
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