Things that Go BUMP in my Mind

Knitting, stitching, reading, gardening, cooking--I have no time for any of it.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

"The Supreme Court is whack"

So sayeth my friend Melissa, and she is ever so right. A couple of weeks ago, the Supremes decided a case called Blakely v. Washington, in which they ruled that the factual findings made in order to impose a sentence under the Washington State sentencing guidelines must be made not by the judge, but by a jury.

So what, you ask? Well, here's what: in 1987, Congress created the Federal Sentencing Commission, the job of which was to create a set of sentencing guidelines to ensure uniformity in federal sentencing. Under the guidelines, a federal judge imposing a sentence must make a series of factual determinations regarding a broad variety of questions. For example, if a defendant has been convicted of a robbery, the guidelines require the judge to consider, among other things: how much money was taken; were any weapons used; was anyone hurt; was the money taken to further another criminal enterprise; was the defendant the leader of the group; whether the defendant lied during his trial testimony; etc., etc., etc. If Blakely applies to the federal guidelines, all of these determinations will have to be made by a jury.

Again you ask, so what? And again, I'll tell you. If the guidelines are invalid, thousands and thousands of sentences imposed over the course of the last year or so are now invalid. And, until the applicability of Blakely to the guidelines is decided, thousands more cases (federal courts sentence roughly 75,000 defendants every year) are in limbo. As the Second Circuit so aptly noted in an order virtually begging the Supremes to do something, "chaos is imminent."

I'm crossing my fingers and hoping the Supreme Court will take action this summer. Even more, I'm hoping they will do the *right* thing.


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