Thursday, June 13, 2013

Supreme Court: Retroactive application of sentencing guidelines violates ex post facto

A divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that tougher sentencing guidelines passed after someone commits a crime cannot be used to justify a longer sentence for the defendant, reported the Washington Post.

The court ruled 5 to 4 that such a change would violate the Constitution’s prohibition against enacting laws that retroactively make an action illegal or call for greater punishment.

Even though the federal sentence guidelines are advisory, not binding the analysis is the same, wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She said the range of sentencing options contained in the guidelines “is intended to, and usually does, exert controlling influence on the sentence that the court will impose.”

Federal sentencing guidelines originally were enacted to be binding. But the court ruled in 2005 that that ran afoul of the Constitution. The remedy was to make them advisory. But Sotomayor said the guidelines still carry enormous weight.

“That a district court may ultimately sentence a given defendant outside the guidelines range does not deprive the guidelines of force as the framework for sentencing,” Sotomayor wrote.

“Indeed, the rule that an incorrect guidelines calculation” can be reason for appeal “ensures that they remain the starting point for every sentencing calculation in the federal system.”

The court rejected the government’s position that because the guidelines did not carry the legal effect of a “law,” they do not violate the ex post facto clause.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What does this mean for Pennsylvania sex offenders who as of December 2012 have had their lengths of required Megan's Law registration increased?

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