Pubdate: Mon, 24 Jan 2005
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2005 Associated Press
Author: Hope Yen
Please: See:
Bookmark: (Federal Sentencing)


WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court asked federal courts Monday to reconsider 
sentences for hundreds of defendants who contend they were wrongly punished 
under a sentencing system the court declared unconstitutional earlier this 

Justices instructed the lower courts to review more than 400 appeals from 
defendants sentenced for crimes ranging from drug possession to theft and 
securities fraud. They had argued that judges had improperly boosted their 
sentences based on factors that had not come before the jury during trial.

The Supreme Court ruled Jan. 12 that the federal guidelines violated a 
defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial because the 18-year-old 
guidelines required judges to make factual decisions that affect prison 
time, such as the amount of drugs involved in a crime or amount of money 
involved in fraud.

Under the ruling, the guidelines are no longer mandatory but advisory; as a 
result, federal judges are free to sentence convicted criminals as they see 
fit, but they may be subject to reversal if appeals courts find them 

In all, thousands of cases are expected to be reviewed by the lower courts 
to determine whether the defendants were harshly punished. That will hinge 
on what the appeals courts consider "reasonable" - for example, whether the 
new advisory guidelines set a reasonable range or judges should have wider 

Among the cases the high court sent back to lower courts Monday was that of 
Peter Kay Stern, a North Carolina man whose sentence for tax and bank fraud 
was boosted from three years to 12 years by a judge.

"This court has clearly held that every defendant has the right to insist 
that the prosecutor prove to a jury all facts legally essential to the 
punishment," Stern argued in his court filing.

In another case, pharmacist Robert Courtney contested his 30-year sentence 
for diluting cancer drugs. (Courtney v. United States, 04-264.) Courtney, 
of Kansas City, pleaded guilty to 20 counts of product tampering and 
adulterating drugs meant for chemotherapy patients. Prosecutors have said 
the scheme might have affected about 98,000 prescriptions for 4,200 patients.

Courtney's lawyers said prosecutors should have had a jury, not a judge, 
decide factors that gave him a longer sentence, including whether 
Courtney's actions caused psychological injuries.

"A defendant subject to the federal sentencing guidelines should only be 
held accountable if the factual record proves that a departure is 
warranted. The psychological injuries were not proven," Courtney argued.
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