Federal Sentencing Guidelines
Thank God for the Supreme Court and our system of checks and balances. Several recent 5 to 4 Supreme Court decisions have just barely kept us from spiraling downward into – well, let’s not go there.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled (5 to 4, of course) that federal judges are not bound by federal mandatory sentencing guidelines. Those guidelines are now just advisory, not mandatory. (Isn’t that what the word “guideline” is supposed to mean?) Furthermore, if a judge chooses to impose a longer sentence based on the federal guidelines, it will now be easier to have that sentence overturned by an appeals court.
A lot of these federal mandatory sentences (usually drug-related) have been based on facts that were not found by the jury nor admitted by the defendant. This violates the defendant’s right to a fair trial, according to the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Predictably, the Justice Department is disappointed in the ruling. About 64,000 criminal defendants each year have been sentenced under these “guidelines,” and thousands of cases have been on hold, pending yesterday’s ruling.
The stakes are getting steadily higher in the upcoming Supreme Court vacancy(ies). The Religious Right, of course, wants a Fundamentalist who will help propel us back to the 4th century. Big Business is also lobbying heavily for an ultraconservative judge. Protecting the environment, providing safe conditions for those lowly workers – what a pain in the butt. And those medical malpractice lawsuits are getting way out of hand – inept doctors have rights too.
Now, in addition, the people who are drooling and champing at the bit to lock up every small-time drug offender for 9,000 years will be lobbying to put a gung ho Narc-DEA type on the Supreme Court.
Democratic senators, you have your work cut out for you. To paraphrase the real estate cliché of “location, location, location”: Filibuster, filibuster, filibuster.