Thursday, January 13, 2005

Lots and Lots of News Stories

Here is a collection of recent news stories on yesterday's opinions by the Court. Where relevant, I've excerpted interesting parts from the stories.

"High court loosens criminal sentencing guidelines," from the Seattle Times:

Gregory Poe, a Washington, D.C., attorney and former federal defender, said, "Congress is likely to make changes. And there is great concern that Congress may have an appetite to create a system applying strict penalties regardless of the merits in individual cases."


Frank Bowman, a professor at the Indiana University School of Law and a leading expert on the guidelines, said, "There is one thing that appears to be clear: The court has, by either judicial fiat or an act of statutory interpretation, created a system of advisory guidelines which, I think you can at least argue, give federal trial judges the greatest sentencing power they've ever had."

Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray said the Justice Department was "disappointed" that the court had made the guidelines advisory in nature, but emphasized that the opinion makes clear that trial judges still are required to consult the guidelines in making sentencing decisions.

"Area well poised in wake of Supreme Court sentencing decision," from the Waco Tribune:

Federal inmates at the McLennan County Detention Center in downtown Waco raised the roof for joy Wednesday morning after learning on television news that the U.S. Supreme Court had upended federal sentencing guidelines.

Most inmates there have yet to be sentenced and are waiting to go to court, said Thomas Medart, chief of security at the privately run facility.

"They're happy," he said. "It's postponed some of the sentencing that would have happened, but it's not creating any problems for us."


U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr., who presides over Waco's federal court and is chief judge for the Western District of Texas, said he wasn't surprised by the ruling. After all, Smith issued a ruling of his own in July saying the sentencing guidelines were not constitutional and violated defendants' Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.

Smith said he was pleased with the decision because it will give federal judges more discretion in sentencing. He said


Whatever the fallout, Smith said he doesn't believe Wednesday's ruling will be the last word on the subject, an observation echoed on the Supreme Court. Congress will likely set higher mandatory minimums for many crimes, again taking away judges' discretion, he said.

Johnny Sutton, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, said he needs more time to digest the high court's ruling. But it doesn't appear "the sky is falling," he said.

"Sentencing guidelines tossed out," from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Calling yesterday's decision a "mess," Ohio State University law professor Douglas Berman said: "This is going to be applied in diverse and dramatically different ways in the lower courts."

For students of the Supreme Court's internal politics, the split decision yesterday reflected the influence of Breyer, who worked on sentencing reform as the Senate Judiciary Committee's chief counsel in 1979 and 1980 and served on the Sentencing Commission from 1985 to 1989. "This is Breyer's revenge," said Berman. "He loves the world he created and wants to hold onto it any way he can."


Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who as the Judiciary Committee chairman would preside over any rewriting of sentencing law, reacted cautiously to yesterday's ruling. "I intend to thoroughly review the Supreme Court's decision and work to establish a sentencing method that will be appropriately tough on career criminals, fair and consistent with constitutional requirements," he said.

"Judges Freed From Sentencing Rules," from the LA Times:

By basically preserving the current system, the ruling is not likely to have a broad effect on criminals serving federal terms or those awaiting sentence. It is unclear what effect it will have on future sentencing.

"There are going to be a lot of disappointed criminals in federal prison today," said Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, an organization in Sacramento that supports the rights of crime victims.

Some other stories include: "Sentencing ruling may aid Cianci's early release," from the Providence Journal; "Justices weaken sentencing rules," from the Philadelphia Inquirer;"Federal sentencing system to get overhaul," from the Knoxville News Sentinel.

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