What are Federal Sentencing Guidelines?
Federal Sentencing Guidelines have been in place for approximately 2 decades. These guidelines established a uniform sentencing system for all convicted defendants in the United States Federal Court System. Critics believe that the penalties established in the guidelines are too harsh.
United States v. Booker
In January 2005, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision in the United States v. Booker case. The facts of this case that brought sentencing guidelines to its knees are as follows:
During the sentencing phase for Booker the judge heard further evidence and concluded that the defendant possessed an additional 566 grams of cocaine and had obstructed justice. As a result of this additional testimony, the judge sentenced the defendant to 30 years rather than 21 years based on the jury’s verdict.
The Effect of United States v. Booker
As a result of the Booker case the court held that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines were unconstitutional. Under the Guidelines, judges were allowed to sentence defendants based on all facts surrounding the defendant’s offense. Why is this unconstitutional? The sixth amendment, which guarantees the right to trial by jury, implies the right to have a jury find the facts that increase the sentence. Simply put the Court found that a judge should not be allowed to take other factors into consideration other than facts found by a jury.
Many wonder how Booker will affect the prison inmates who are serving sentences imposed under the now unconstitutional Federal Guidelines. Many court analysts are saying that unfortunately the Booker decision did not speak to the question of retroactivity. We all must now wait until a future case, which speaks to this question, is decided. In one case, Bey v. United States, the court determined that the Booker decision did not apply retroactively to second or successive habeas petitions but addressed no other types of cases. We again wait for another decision to set precedent on this topic. In November the Supreme Court denied review in 11 cases on the issue of retroactivity and the Booker decision. The Court stated that they simply were not ready to confront that question.
By Lisa Zanassi