Reprieve on Sentencing Guidelines?

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 8, 2004 | Go to article overview

Reprieve on Sentencing Guidelines?


Byline: Erik Luna, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Last Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases that may well decide the future of the U.S. government's punishment scheme, a.k.a. the federal sentencing guidelines.

The justices' grant of review was all but guaranteed by another sentencing case decided by the Supreme Court in June. That opinion's aftermath provoked members of Congress and commentators alike to describe the state of federal sentencing in apocalyptic terms - "chaos," "crisis," "siege," and so on.

Even Justice Sandra Day O'Connor chimed in recently. She characterized the decision as "a No. 10 earthquake" and said she was "disgusted in how we dealt with it."

In fact, my home state is an epicenter for handwringers, as four different federal trial judges in Utah have produced four different approaches to sentencing in less than a month.

But with these dire predictions about an impending collapse of the sentencing guidelines scheme, I can't help but hum the refrain from R.E.M.'s 1987 rock ditty: "It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine." Punishment in U.S. courts has run amok since federal lawmakers launched the current system in the 1980s, and the Supreme Court's ruling could provide the impetus to raze this regime - and not a minute too soon.

The case that incited legal and political uproar and motivated the court's action last week, Blakely vs. Washington, would seem to affect only one aspect of federal sentencing. In Blakely, the Supreme Court invalidated a state scheme that permitted increased punishment based on factors neither admitted by the defendant nor proven to a jury.

Although the opinion refused to address the federal sentencing guidelines, the inevitable consequences appear obvious given that the invalidated state approach and that of the federal regime are virtually identical.

The court's holding also undermines some of its most constitutionally obnoxious rulings in the recent past, including cases that approved drastically increased punishment based on conduct that was never charged or, even worse, alleged crimes for which the defendant was actually acquitted at trial. Hopefully, federal prosecutors will now be bound to some semblance of truth-in-charging, and once again a "not guilty" verdict will mean what it says.

But the decision does not touch any number of perversions and injustices under the sentencing guidelines. Unknown to most Americans, punishment in federal courts is set not by elected lawmakers but by an administrative agency, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, fittingly described by Justice Antonin Scalia in 1989 as "a sort of junior-varsity Congress" in contravention of the constitutional design.

The commission is largely free of the typical limitations of other administrative bodies, such as detailed explanations for its rulings and court review for arbitrary and capricious action. It should come as no surprise, then, that the agency's work-product - a 1,500-page tome that makes the federal tax code look like Reader's Digest - exemplifies the mischief of politically unaccountable authority lacking the constraints of outside input and detached evaluation. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Reprieve on Sentencing Guidelines?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.