Monday status conference: Supreme trio

In its busiest (and newsiest) decision day yet, today the U.S. Supreme Court issued three decisions dealing with criminal sentencing, holding that:

(1) judges have the discretion to impose shorter sentences for crack cocaine offenses than required under the federal sentencing guidelines;

(2) a court of appeals incorrectly threw out a sentence for a drug dealing offence below the sentencing guidelines where it was not supported by “extraordinary circumstances,” and

(3) receiving a gun in a trade for drugs does not constitute gun “use” for purposes of a statute that imposes a higher sentence for crimes where a gun is used.

That cases together take the Court’s 2005 decision in U.S. v. Booker -which held that the guidelines were advisory in nature – even further, holding that judges have broad discretion that cannot be overturned absent a clear abuse of discretion. It also sanctions judges’ ability to issue shorter sentences for crack cocaine offenses than the 100-to-1 crack-to-powder cocaine sentence under the guidelines.

The decisions, Kimbrough v. U.S., No. 06-6330, authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Gall v. U.S., No. 06-799, penned by Justice John Paul Stevens, and Watson v. U.S., No. 06-571, written by Justice David Souter, can be found on the Court’s website here. More on the decisions on this blog later, tomorrow on Lawyers USA’s website, and Monday in the next issue of Lawyers USA.

You can also read more about the oral arguments in the cases from Lawyers USA’s archives here and here (sub. Req’d).


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