Thursday, January 04, 2007

Strictly Sentencing

A good summary of Booker, Rita, Claiborne: (Martin Magnuson/American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS) Blog)

In its Booker opinion, the Supreme Court held that the Guidelines are unconstitutional, but are nonetheless “advisory.” It further held that sentences given by federal judges would be reviewed for unreasonableness.

In the two years since Booker was handed down, the federal sentencing scheme is largely as it was before; judges routinely sentence within the Guidelines, despite their non-binding nature. Since Booker, several Circuit Courts have even held that a sentence with the Guidelines is presumptively reasonable.

This raises the question of whether a presumption of reasonableness for sentences within the Guidelines range is consistent with Booker. The Supreme Court will explore that issue on February 20, when it hears oral arguments in Rita and Claiborne. In Rita, the question presented is whether a sentence within the Guidelines range is presumptively reasonable. In Claiborne, the Supreme Court will address whether a sentence below the Guidelines range is presumptively unreasonable.

These two cases may be among the most closely-watched criminal cases the Supreme Court will hear this term, particularly in light of recent changes in its composition. Of the five justices who held that the Guidelines are advisory, Justice O’Connor and Chief Justice Rehnquist are no longer on the Court.

Court briefs in the Rita and Claiborne cases are available through the New York Council of Defense Lawyers. Prof. Doug Berman has written extensively on Rita and Claiborne and his blog contains a wealth of information on the issue.

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